Let's kick off our heels and remind bosses being sexy at work is not a job requirement
Published 13/05/2016 | 02:30
More than 100,000 people have signed an online petition after a British woman said she was sent home without pay from a temping job at PricewaterhouseCoopers because she wasn't wearing a pair of high heels, or more specifically shoes with a heel of between two and four inches.
If you wrote this into a novel about sexism in the workplace, it would seem a bit far-fetched. "Too much," your editor would tell you. "You need to tone it down a little."
When Nicola Thorp rang a UK employee-rights helpline, she was told that employers have the right to impose a dress code. The temping company, Portico, has now backed down and said that PwC had asked it to review and revise its policy. Portico released the following statement: "We are therefore making it very clear, that with immediate effect, all our female colleagues can wear plain flat shoes or plain court shoes as they prefer."
Photos of the blood-stained feet of a waitress in Canada - who worked a full shift in high heels, part of that company's dress code - have also gone viral over the past two days.
Imposing a heel height on women isn't asking us to be professional, it's asking us to be sexy and uncomfortable. So, could women made to wear them at work sue their employer?
"If they set the code because they thought high heels made women look sexy, that is a case," Lawrence Davis, director at Equal Justice Limited solicitors told BBC news yesterday, "because being sexy at work is not a job requirement." The online campaign has garnered more than the required 100,000 signatures, so the issue might now be debated in Britain's parliament.
The height of a heel shouldn't denote professionalism - flat shoes can be just as sophisticated. But this isn't the first time we've had a heel-gate situation.
At last year's Cannes film festival, a group of women were refused entry on the red carpet because they were wearing flat shoes, including film producer Valeria Richter, who has had part of her left foot amputated. Not cool. Actress Emily Blunt was among those actresses who spoke out. "Everyone should wear flats, to be honest. We shouldn't wear high heels," she said. "That's very disappointing, just when you kind of think there are these new waves of equality."
Women are the eternal victims of con tricks by the fashion industry. Right now, every woman is supposed to have a wardrobe of shoes. You can blame Carrie Bradshaw. And this total disconnect between fashion and what people should actually wear to work seems to have passed almost unnoticed. Magazines continue to show us ever more crazy shoes but fashion isn't about moderation, it's about excess, and stretching the boundaries into new territory.
Fashion shouldn't be used as a tool against female workers.
The petition states that "current formal work dress codes are outdated and sexist."
They are if we've arrived at a place where in order to be completely professional, a woman should be hobbled and in physical pain from her footwear.
But here's a radical idea: maybe it isn't OK to compel women to spend their wages on and wear shoes that will hurt their feet, damage their legs and spines and cause long-term harm. The whole range of physiological repercussions that await the heel-wearer run the gamut from blisters to bunions, back pain to varicose veins and plantar fasciitis to splitting headaches.
Maybe a woman would be just as capable of replying to emails, answering phones and compiling reports in non-vertical footwear.
I've read some online comments about this sorry saga, all from men or avatars weirdly enough, claiming that this is the exact same thing as insisting that men wear suits and ties. These lads are totally right, of course. It is the same thing if wearing a suit and tie renders men less mobile and leaves them with lifelong foot problems. Does it?
I know girls who love their heels. Some even wear them at weekends for no reason at all. Some of them say that the extra height makes them feel stronger, more empowered, and that they feel like a duck when they walk in flats. I'm not trying to ban heels but I'm not sure how you can be plucky and self-assured when you've got a twisted ankle, bunions and tendonitis because your boss is forcing you to spend your 9 to 5 in four-inch heels.
Women have suffered in the podiatric area from the time of foot-binding onwards, thanks mainly to the perverse predilections of men and fashion.
In 2016, no woman should be forced to walk around on stilts. Dear bosses, let us wear shoes we can walk around comfortably in.