Laws against sexist dress codes and discrimination aren't being properly enforced, warn MPs

Rebecca Smith
Calvin Klein Fall 2005 - Runway
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The government needs to crack down on sexist dress codes - which are still widespread in UK workplaces - a group of MPs has warned.

Two Commons' committees have called for a review of current equality legislation after gathering evidence of sexist instructions issued to a raft of female employees, but not to their male colleagues.

Their report began after the treatment of Nicola Thorp, who came to work in flat shoes, as a receptionist, back in 2015. She was sent home without pay after refusing to buy a pair with at least a two-inch heel, despite pointing out that men weren't required to adhere to similar restrictions.

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In its findings, the report noted the Equality Act 2010 should ban discriminatory dress rules at work, but the "the law is obviously not working" to protect employees from discrimination and "unsafe working conditions".

The committees found examples of unlawful dress rules that covered much more than just shoes though "requirements to wear high heels remain widespread", hearing orders for women to dye their hair blonde, wear revealing clothes or reapply makeup regularly.

The MPs want this area of the law to be reviewed "and to ask Parliament to change it, if necessary, to make it more effective". Employment tribunals, they say, should be given the power to apply heftier financial penalties.

Their report recommends a publicity campaign be launched to ensure employers know their legal obligations - and for workers to know how to complain.

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It comes as new research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found 81 per cent of managers have witnessed some form of gender discrimination or bias in their workplace in the past year.

The survey of 851 UK managers found that inappropriate remarks, gender bias in recruitment and promotion decisions, as well as gender inequality in pay and rewards were still proving major barriers to gender equality in many organisations.

Ann Francke, the CMI's chief executive, said: "Achieving a better gender balance is essential to boosting the UK’s productivity, which lags far behind our G7 competitors. If we’re to meet this ambitious target, then managers at all levels must call out behaviour that discriminates against women and encourage equality within their workplace.

Of course, there are many things that managers, and particularly men in senior roles, can do.

There are the big things like championing better flexible working arrangements and sponsoring and mentoring women.

But there are the everyday things, like giving everyone an equal chance to be heard in meetings, and to cut out the ‘locker room’ banter that is holding us all back.

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