Sent Home for Not Wearing Heels, She Ignited a British Rebellion
LONDON — When Nicola Thorp reported to work awhile back as a temporary receptionist in the financial center here, she was shocked when her temp supervisor said her flat shoes were unacceptable. She would need to get herself shoes with heels at least two inches high.
When she refused, she was sent home from the accounting firm PwC without pay. But that was not the end of it. Five months later, Ms. Thorp, an actress originally from the northern seaside city of Blackpool, started a petition calling for a law that would make sure no company could ever again demand that a woman wear heels to work.
The petition garnered more than 150,000 signatures, helped spur a popular backlash — dozens of professional women posted photographs of themselves on Twitter defiantly wearing flats — and prompted an inquiry overseen by two parliamentary committees.
On Wednesday, more than two years after Ms. Thorp, now 28, strode into that office in her chic but sensible black flats, the committees released a report concluding that Portico, the outsourcing firm that had insisted she wear high heels, had broken the law. It added that existing law needed to be toughened to overcome outmoded and sexist workplace codes.
During the investigation, the committees received hundreds of complaints from women whose companies had demanded that they “dye their hair blonde,” “wear revealing outfits” or “constantly reapply makeup.”
“Discriminatory dress codes remain widespread,” the report said.
Ms. Thorp lauded the inquiry’s conclusion, saying it was all the more imperative in the Trump era, when men around the world had a role model in the White House who had boasted about behaving badly toward women.
“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.”
Ms. Thorp said her heel revolt, while a protest against sexism and discrimination, was also a matter of public health given the toll that high heels take on women’s feet. “The company expected me to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms,” she said. “I told them that I just wouldn’t be able to do that in heels.”
Portico on Wednesday said it had rewritten its code almost immediately after the issue was raised by Ms. Thorp, dropping the heel requirement, among others. Its old code had warned employees against such things as greasy or highly gelled hair or wearing flowers as accessories. It had also called for heel height to be two to four inches and for makeup to be “worn at all times” and “regularly reapplied,” with a minimum of lipstick, mascara and eye shadow.
PwC stressed that the dress code required by Portico in December 2015 was Portico’s policy and had been enforced by a Portico supervisor. Nevertheless, it said it regretted that the inquiry was instigated by an incident at its offices, and it remained committed to equality at the workplace.
In some spheres, Britain, a multicultural society, has been particularly sensitive about gender discrimination. Last summer the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, banned advertisements showing scantily clad women from the city’s public transportation system, saying they promoted unhealthy or unrealistic body images.
But legal experts and women’s advocates say social and cultural conventions can be harder to change. When Prime Minister Theresa May was photographed recently wearing a $1,250 pair of “desert khaki” leather pants, she was criticized as being excessive and out of touch, even as her defenders argued that no one talked about Mr. Trump’s far more expensive Brioni suits.
Nevertheless, before she entered No. 10 Downing Street, Mrs. May herself may have played a role in reinforcing gender stereotypes. When she was the minister for women and equality in 2011, she said that “traditional gender-based workplace dress codes” had not held her back and argued that they encouraged “a sense of professionalism” in the workplace.
In a sign of the challenges ahead, the British television host Piers Morgan inspired a Twitter storm on Wednesday when he insisted during an interview with Ms. Thorp that it was not unreasonable to expect a receptionist to wear stiletto heels. “Get Piers in Heels,” roared The Sun’s headline.
周三，英国电视主持人皮尔斯·摩根(Piers Morgan)在采访索普时坚持认为，期待一名接待员穿细高跟鞋并非毫无道理，这在Twitter上引起轩然大波。此事表明，未来还有很多挑战。《太阳报》(The Sun)的头条怒吼道：“让皮尔斯穿上高跟鞋！”
Britain’s 2010 Equality Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender, age or sexual orientation. But women’s advocates and legal experts said the law was unevenly applied.
Emma Birkett, who works in retail, told the inquiry that her company encouraged her and her female colleagues to wear shorter skirts and unbutton more buttons on their blouses during Christmastime, “when a higher proportion of male shoppers was anticipated.” Ruth Campion, a flight attendant, testified that she felt “prostituted” when ordered to wear heels, skirts and makeup.
零售业从业人员埃玛·伯基特(Emma Birkett)在调查中称，她所在的公司鼓励她和女同事们在圣诞节期间穿更短的裙子，把上衣的扣子解开得更多，因为“那时预计会有更高比例的男顾客”。空姐露丝·坎皮恩(Ruth Campion)表示，穿高跟鞋和裙子以及化妆这些要求让她有一种“卖身”之感。
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, a leading women’s rights organization in London that traces its roots to 1866, said sexist dress codes that objectified women or men had no place in the modern workplace. She noted that it took until last January for British Airways to allow female cabin crew members to wear trousers. She also lamented that it cost about $1,500 in Britain for a person to bring a case before an employment tribunal, and that even without this financial constraint, “some women don’t want to be seen as troublemakers or risk losing their jobs.”
伦敦主要女权组织福西特协会(Fawcett Society)的主席萨姆·斯迈瑟(Sam Smethers)表示，物化女性或男性的性别主义着装要求在现代工作场合没有立足之地。该组织的历史可以追溯到1866年。斯迈瑟指出，直到去年1月份，英国航空公司(British Airways)才允许女乘务员穿裤子。她还抱怨说，在英国，要花费约1500美元才能把一个案件提交到就业仲裁庭，即使没有这项财务负担，“有些女性也不想被视为闹事者或承担失去工作的风险”。
“Employers need to focus on what drives productivity and enables their staff to feel part of a team,” she said, adding, “It isn’t a pair of high heels.”