Culture

Sole-Crushing: Mandatory High Heels in the Workplace

A recent story out of London involves a temporary receptionist who was sent home from work for not wearing high heels. Nicola Thorp was instructed to wear 2 to 4 inch heeled shoes for temporary work at the PwC finance company. She refused to wear the heels and was sent home without pay.

Now, Ms. Thorp had signed a document articulating some “appearance guidelines” so she knew she was expected wear the heels. But Thorp said she would have struggled to work a full day in heels. Might I suggest she should have turned down the job if she was unable to meet the requirements?

Most women will agree that heeled shoes can be painful. I have no idea how women wear 3 or 4 inch heels to work all day, but I don’t have a job that requires me to wear them nor would I ever take such a job.

“I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said ‘I just won’t be able to do that in heels,'” she said.

According to Thorp, she asked if men would be expected to do the same job wearing high heels and was laughed at and told to go home without a paycheck.

“I said ‘if you can give me a reason as to why wearing flats would impair me to do my job today, then fair enough,’ but they couldn’t,” she told BBC Radio London.

In this day and age, people don’t just move along to their next adventure: they start a petition.

Ms. Thorp started a petition and gathered 50,000 signatures — which in England requires the government to respond. Petitions also scare corporations that live in fear of being accused of sexism, racism or some kind of “phobia.” The company promptly reversed course.

Portico managing director Simon Pratt said the firm was “committed to being an inclusive and equal opportunities employer” and actively embraced “diversity and inclusion within all our policies.”

“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.”

You can almost read the fear in that statement.

“I think dress codes should reflect society and nowadays women can be smart and formal and wear flat shoes,” said Ms. Thorp.

“Aside from the debilitating factor, it’s the sexism issue. I think companies shouldn’t be forcing that on their female employees.”

This situation involves a voluntary association between two parties, therefore Ms. Thorp forced those shoes on her own feet by agreeing to a dress code that required heeled shoes. She is free to find an employer that offers a dress code that fits her shoe lifestyle her feet can live with.

Do you agree? Should business be able to mandate that their employees adhere to a dress code — and if so, how strict is too strict?