Style Voices

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Ladies, it's time to kick off our heels and revolt against office dress code tyranny

The process of buying your own home can be daunting and seems to come with a language all of its own. (Stock image)

Lorraine Courtney

We learned this week that dress codes that discriminate against women are still widespread in UK workplaces, even after a petition calling for the "outdated and sexist" practice to be changed so women have the option to wear flat shoes in the office.

More than 152,000 people supported the campaign after Nicola Thorp lost her job as a receptionist because she refused to wear high heels.

It's the same story here, despite the fact that under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015 an employer cannot have provisions or practices which are either directly or indirectly discriminatory on any of nine protected grounds. These grounds include gender and religion, the most common grounds for disputes about dress codes.

All Irish employers must ensure that dress codes don't treat people less favourably in respect of any of the grounds and codes should always be proportionate and consistent.

But we all know that a woman's appearance matters at work. It often matters even more than her qualifications. It matters more than being good at the job. And it absolutely matters more than it does for male colleagues. In fact, looking good is not a bonus in the workplace, it's essential for female success. It isn't just about the dress code either, it includes physical appearance too.

A study sent over 1,000 fake CVs in application for job vacancies. All CVs had similar qualifications but the genders, names and pictures were different. The study found that attractiveness played an enormous part in the likelihood of the applicant going on to the second stage of the process. The average callback rate for all of the CVs was 30pc. But it was 54pc for attractive women. Shockingly, unattractive women had only a 7pc callback rate.

But also, an implicit value is placed on how women look to the extent that multiple studies confirm that men take women who dress up and wear make-up more seriously in professional situations, and they are even more likely to earn more.

I've listened to a man criticise a female co-worker wearing cardigans in the office. He seemed to think that girls who wore cardis weren't suitably driven.

The dress-code tyranny doesn't just affect the high-powered. It extends to every single job. Just consider some of the insanely detailed guidelines for high-street retailers' female employees. Some of them include bans on shiny lip gloss. I don't have to mention that this doesn't apply to male shop assistants.

Turn on the telly and you'll witness a veritable conveyor belt of identikit female presenters. Now, all of these women are very competent at their jobs but they're in no way representative of the average Irish woman. Even our news and cookery programmes are hosted by extraordinarily beautiful women, and I'd struggle to name a single woman on our screens who's less than exceptionally good-looking. Meanwhile, men can be average and still present programmes.

Women in Irish politics are subjected to a level of sexist criticism that their male counterparts are not. Ask yourself when you last heard a jibe about Leo Varadkar's choice of shirt, Michael Noonan's tie collection or Enda Kenny's haircut. We probably reached peak sexism in politics back in 2009 when Boylesports came up with a very "foxy" idea and carried out a poll into who the "foxiest" candidates in the elections were. But the most revealing thing wasn't who they picked. It was the fact that 43pc of respondents said they believe a candidate's appearance would influence their voting decision.

It happens inside the Dáil too. Remember Miss Piggy-gate?

There's a financial cost to all this. Men can buy one suit and a pair of shoes with a few shirts, whereas girls need myriad dresses, shoes and handbags. And that's not including the cost of cosmetics. Stuff like this really affects women. When you're working around the clock and literally have time only to eat and shower it's really boring to have to think about having your make-up bag with you and worry about what the size of your heel is saying about your dedication to your job.

But in a world where a woman is expected to show an interest in how she looks if she wants to be taken seriously, it's equally time we dropped the hypocrisy that having an interest in appearance somehow also prevents a woman from being serious.

Irish Independent

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