Equalities minister Caroline Dinenage has called on employers using outdated dress codes to reform any offices still retaining a “dodgy 1970s workplace diktat” during a debate on high heels at work.
Ms Dinenage’s comments came during a debate in Westminster Hall following a petition that attracted more than 150,000 signatories calling for a ban on forcing women to wear high heels at work.
London receptionist Nicola Thorp launched the petition after she was sent home from work when she refused to wear high heels. Some 152,000 people backed Ms Thorp’s call and the campaign prompted the Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee to conduct a joint review of workplace dress codes.
The report found examples of female employees being told to dye their hair blonde, wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply make-up.
Responding to MPs at the debate Ms Dinenage said that while the existing discrimination law was adequate, she added the Government recognises employers lack awareness of the law or even choose to flout it.
“Let me be clear the Government won’t tolerate discrimination on any grounds,” she added. “When it comes to supporting women in the workplace we mean to be bold and this includes strong laws to tackle sex discrimination at work.
She continued: “We should renew our efforts to be bold for change. After all, we have had anti-discrimination laws in this area for more than 40 years yet it is a safe bet that these sort of dress codes have existed under the radar, with female employees putting up with discrimination because that is the way things are.
“Shod in heels or flats, we are collectively putting our foot down and attitudes are changing, and this petition has brought that change very clearly into the public domain.”
Ms Dinenage went on: “Whether they [women] wear high heels or not, it should be absolutely up to them, not to some outdated, dodgy 1970s workplace diktat.
“I must reiterate that the Government utterly condemns such dress requirements where their effects are discriminatory.”
Paula Sherriff, the shadow equalities minister, however, added: “How on earth can this Government claim to show any commitment to tackling sexist and discriminatory working practices when they have effectively priced women out of their own employment rights?”
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