When Nicola Thorp was sent home from her job as a receptionist at accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers for not wearing high heeled shoes nearly two years ago, she started a petition to make it illegal for employers to require women to wear heels at work. Thorp went on to garner more than 150,000 signatures for her petition, start a movement on social media, and even prompt an inquiry overseen by two parliamentary committees. Thorpe’s longstanding battle was finally vindicated on Wednesday, when the committees released a report concluding that Portico, the outsourcing firm responsible for insisting Thorpe wear high heels, had broken the law in doing so.
“Discriminatory dress codes remain widespread,” read the report, noting that the committees had received hundreds of complaints from women who said companies demanded that they “dye their hair blonde,” “wear revealing outfits” or “constantly reapply makeup.” The report concluded that the law needed to be updated and strengthened in order to deal with outdated and sexist workplace standards.
“I refused to work for a company that expected women to wear makeup, heels and a skirt. This is unacceptable in 2017,” said Thorp in response to the inquiry’s findings. “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.”
Women’s rights advocates and legal experts have alleged that Britain’s workplace anti-discrimination laws are applied unevenly. Until last January, for example, British Airways had forbidden female cabin crew members from wearing trousers. In a sign of battles that may yet be to come, British television host Piers Morgan argued while interviewing Thorp on Wednesday that employers should be entitled to require receptionists to wear stiletto heels.
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