In December 2015, Nicola Thorp was told by a temp supervisor that she’d have to leave work without pay for wearing sturdy flats instead of stilettos. She could come back if she went out and bought heels (with her own money) that were at least 2 inches high. Understandably fed up, the London-based temp receptionist and actress started a petition asking Parliament to make companies face consequences for their sexist dress codes. The petition went viral and garnered over 152,000 signatures.
Parliament then launched an inquiry that uncovered just how many women were affected by similar workplace regulations (hint: most of them). Parliament’s Chair of the Petitions Committee, Helen Jones, told the BBC of the survey responses they got, “It’s clear … that Nicola’s story is far from unique.”
On Jan. 25, the Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee published a report concluding that Thorp’s temp employer’s rules, which also included instructions on how many times to reapply lipstick, which colors were acceptable as nail polish, and the ideal thickness of employee nylons, did in fact break the law. The report also declared that “urgent action is needed” to ensure that all companies treat all employees equally.
“No employer should discriminate against workers on grounds of gender — it is unacceptable and is against the law,” a spokesperson for the government told the BBC. “Dress codes must be reasonable and include equivalent requirements for both men and women. The Government Equalities Office will carefully consider this report and will work with its partners to make sure employers comply with the law.”
Though this report is a small victory for Thorp, she remains worried for equality in the future. “I refused to work for a company that expected women to wear makeup, heels, and a skirt. This is unacceptable in 2017,” she said. “People say sexism is not an issue anymore. But when a man who has admitted publicly to sexually harassing women is the leader of the free world, it is more crucial than ever to have laws that protect women.”
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