As a company that cares a great deal about employee well-being, we welcome the news that the government inquiry into dress codes has recognised that action needs to be taken to improve the law around dress codes. The inquiry came about because of a petition started by Nicola Thorp, whose employer sent her home without pay for refusing to wear high heels.
A key area of the report emphasised the impact on women’s health of wearing high heels, stating that “Dress codes which require women to wear high heels for extended periods of time are damaging to their health and wellbeing in both the short and the long term.” Evidence was provided by The College of Podiatry that, on average, women report pain after 1 hour, 6 minutes and 48 seconds of wearing ill-fitting high heels—with a fifth of respondents reporting pain after 10 minutes’ wear.
It has been confirmed by the Government that the dress code imposed on Ms Thorp was unlawful, but over the course of the inquiry it became evident that in many workplaces, women are still being told they must wear high heels.
Any organisation that values its people should recognise that trying to force women to wear high heels because of aesthetic reasons, is not only patently sexist, but also that medical evidence clearly shows the discomfort and damage that can be caused. The impact that this must have on employee wellbeing, staff productivity and morale is definitely worth thinking about.
Aside from the physical aspects of these imposed dress codes, there is also the impact on mental wellbeing. People whose employers try to impose heavily gendered dress codes may be adversely affected – particularly LGBTQ+ people, who may be made uncomfortable by being forced into archaic gender roles in regard to dress and appearance. Any forward-thinking company that aims to achieve high standards in employee wellbeing should certainly be considering dress codes in the light of these considerations.