Sexist… or uniform? High heels in the workplace

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A shot of a woman wearing high heels in the workplace while walking around outside.

Nicola Thorp is a London-based actress and model. In between gigs, she temps as a receptionist and administration assistant. Polished, professional and reliable, she’s the perfect temp candidate for high profile businesses looking for someone to help out at the last minute.

So, what do Thorp and Hollywood actress Julia Roberts have in common?

Last week, both made global headlines in their mutual protest at being forced to wear high heels. In Nicola Thorp’s case, she attended her receptionist temporary assignment at a professional services firm’s headquarters in London. Upon arrival, however, she was asked by their outsourced supplier to go out and buy a pair of 2-4 inch heels. When she refused, having asked them if wearing flats would impair her ability to do the job, she was turned away and asked to leave. She was later surprised to learn that UK businesses are legally entitled to enforce a dress code that includes high heels.

Julia Roberts, at the Cannes premiere of ‘Money Monster’, also ditched her heels in protest of the festival’s strict dress code. The festival had gotten a bad reputation in previous years for enforcing women to wear heels so Julia ditched them entirely, choosing instead to sink her toes into the red carpet as she sashayed to her premiere.

Regardless of whether it’s dress code or uniform, it seems timely to ask: In 2016, is it right to force women to wear high heels? In the 20 years we’ve been working with our professional services clients, we’ve seen corporate dress codes becoming increasingly relaxed. Casual Fridays are the norm and many businesses don’t have a dress code to speak of at all. With that in mind, our perceptions of what constitutes professional attire are changing too.

And yet, there’s a valid argument for wanting to ensure your staff echo the values of your organisation and give a great first impression to prospective clients and partners. There is a place in the professional world for a dress code and, rightly or wrongly, as ambassadors of the organisations we work for, we should consider our appearance in the workplace. The question lies in how inflexible employers are entitled to be.

Further to Thorp launching a government petition, over 130,000 (and counting) signatories agree with her push to change legislation. We certainly can’t support any code that promotes preventable discomfort in the workplace. Can you?

Author David Morel Tiger Recruitment Team

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