British women at work subject to dress codes including high heels, make-up: Inquiry report

Commuters boarding a bus at Victoria bus station in central London, on Jan 9, 2017.
Commuters boarding a bus at Victoria bus station in central London, on Jan 9, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - High heels, blonde hair and make-up are among dress codes for women in the British workplace, despite gender discrimination being illegal, a parliamentary report released on Wednesday (Jan 25) has found.

The inquiry into women's experience at work was sparked after a receptionist was sent home without pay last year by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Ms Nicola Thorp refused to wear heels of five to 10cm, arguing that men were not required to abide by the same rule.

The incident in London prompted a petition which gained more than 150,000 signatures, leading to the report from the Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee.

"We heard from hundreds of women who told us about the pain and long-term damage caused by wearing high heels for long periods in the workplace, as well as from women who had been required to dye their hair blonde, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply make-up," the report said.


British law allows firms to set dress codes, but says companies must not discriminate against women in doing so.

The committee argued the current legal framework is not fully effective and called on the government to review the law and, if necessary, change it.

Ms Thorp said the current system is "failing employees" and needs to be amended.

"This may have started over a pair of high heels but what it has revealed about discrimination in the UK workplace is vital, as demonstrated by the hundreds of women who came forward," she said.

The Fawcett Society, a women's rights group, told the committee of women being criticised for wearing loose clothing on a hot day, or being asked to look "sexy" in the workplace.

Responding to the report, a government spokesman said the findings would be considered by the Equalities Office.

"Dress codes must be reasonable and include equivalent requirements for both men and women," he said.