Nicola Thorp. Photo: SWNS
Nicola Thorp. Photo: SWNS


Is being made to wear high heels to work sexist? 

A woman who was sent home from work for wearing flats is speaking out – and being heard 

Added on

By Lynn Enright on

Thousands have signed an online petition after a 27-year-old woman said she was sent home without pay from a temping job at the Big Four accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) because she wasn’t wearing a pair of high-heeled shoes. 

Nicola Thorp who was employed by Portico, a temping company for corporate receptions, says that she was ordered to go out and buy a pair of heels after turning up in flats to PwC’s Embankment offices. When she refused, on the grounds that it was discriminatory, she was “laughed at”. 

Speaking to the London Evening Standard, Thorp, who was temping between acting jobs, said: “When I arrived on site, I was turned away from work because I was not wearing high heels. 

“I expressed my confusion as to why, and they explained that flat shoes are not part of their dress code for women. The supervisor told me that I would be sent home without pay unless I went to the shop and bought a pair of two- to four-inch heels. I refused and was sent home.

“When I pointed out that my male colleague was allowed to work in flat shoes, and that I felt that I was being discriminated against, I was laughed at. I left, feeling upset and confused.”

Thorp said that she was also ordered to wear make-up and was handed a colour chart of acceptable shades.

Maybe it’s not OK to ask women to paint their eyelids taupe and permanently damage the muscles around their ankles in exchange for the London Living Wage

When Thorp rang an employee-rights helpline, she was told that employers have the right to impose a dress code and, yesterday, a Portico spokeswoman said: “In line with industry standard practice, we have personal appearance guidelines across many of our corporate locations.”

That thinking – that a dress code is a reasonable workplace demand – will of course make sense to many employers and employees, and yet there is a creeping feeling that, hey, maybe it’s not OK to force women to spend money on – and wear – shoes that hurt their feet and legs and spines, causing both immediate discomfort and long-lasting damage. Maybe it’s not OK to ask women to paint their eyelids taupe and permanently damage the muscles around their ankles in exchange for the London Living Wage. Maybe a woman could answer a phone or direct a client to the third floor, or audit a firm, or advise on tax, just as well in a pair of flats as she could in heels… 

The fact that Thorp’s petition has attracted more than 6,000 signatures in a matter of hours, as well as generating plenty of support on social media, would seem to suggest that many think that way.

“I started this petition because I was outraged that, in 2016, employers still have the right to make women wear heels against their will in the workplace,” Thorp told the Standard. “A woman deserves the choice to wear smart heels or smart flats, whichever is more comfortable or practical, for work.”

The petition states that “current formal work dress codes are outdated and sexist” and it’s a point that’s hard to argue with when you consider the straightforward discrimination Thorp faced. 

You can sign the petition here


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women at work

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