A woman who says she was sent home from a temp job for not wearing high heels is lobbying the government to address workplace dress codes that "discriminate" against women.
Nicola Thorp, a 27-year-old actor living in Hackney, has set up a petition saying women should have the option to wear flat shoes if they want to. Thousands of people have already signed it since its launch on 9 May.
Thorp took action after she arrived at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in London for a receptionist job in flat shoes, but was told she needed to be wearing "two- to four-inch heels".
When she refused to go out and buy a pair, Thorp says she was sent home without pay and "laughed at" when she questioned if the same would be expected of a man.
Thorp also said the agency she was signed to – Portico, a firm used by PwC – also told her to wear makeup and provided a colour chart of "acceptable shades".
Following the incident, which took place in December, Thorp called an employment helpline and was informed it was legal for companies to enforce a dress code.
Thorp, who has now taken her fight public, says the law is "outdated and sexist".
The petition – which calls for a change to dress code laws – is quickly gaining traction and has nearly 15,000 signatures so far. It needs 100,000 for the matter to be considered for debate in parliament.
PwC told BuzzFeed Thorp was sent home because of the policy of an outsourced company and that it wouldn't send home its own staff for not wearing high heels.
A PwC spokeswoman told BuzzFeed: "PwC outsources its front of house/reception services to a third-party supplier. We first became aware of this matter on 10 May some five months after the issue arose. The dress code referenced in the article is not a PwC policy. We are now in discussion with the suppliers about the policy."
PwC later told BuzzFeed: "PwC does not have specific dress guidelines for male or female employees, but we ask our people to exercise their own judgement around the business environment they're operating in."
Portico said it has "appearance guidelines" across many of its corporate locations that are "in line with industry standard practice".
Simon Pratt, Managing Director at Portico, told BuzzFeed: "It is common practice within the service sector to have appearance guidelines and Portico operates them across many of our corporate locations. These policies ensure customer-facing staff are consistently well presented and positively represent a client's brand and image. They include recommendations for appropriate style of footwear for the role. We have taken on board the comments regarding footwear and will be reviewing our guidelines."
Thorp told BBC London she understands why companies have formal dress codes but believes a requirement for high heels is unnecessary.
"I don't hold anything against the company necessarily because they are acting within their rights as employers to have a formal dress code, and as it stands part of that for a woman is to wear high heels," Thorp told the BBC. "I think dress codes should reflect society and nowadays women can be smart and formal and wear flat shoes."
She added: "Aside from the debilitating factor, it's the sexism issue. I think companies shouldn't be forcing that on their female employees."
The incident has prompted outrage from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and politicians.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission told BuzzFeed: "45 years on since the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act, it's baffling that there are still some companies that are practising this sort of outdated sexism."
She added: "In our view, unless equally stringent requirements are applied to male workers, it is likely that a requirement to wear two inch heels would constitute unlawful discrimination, and we will look into whether action needs to be taken."
Lorely Burt, the Liberal Democrat business spokesperson, criticised the company for allowing the policy to be enforced.
"Why should women be made to look stupid?" Burt asked. "I am at work in a pair of flats. It helps me get around faster. High heels can ruin the feet of women."
Portico, the temp job company that enforced the dress code guideline that said women must wear high heels in certain work environments, has reversed its rule.
A spokesperson told BuzzFeed News: "Portico has announced this evening that Portico employees can now wear plain flat shoes or court shoes, with immediate effect. PwC has no guidelines in place about footwear for its staff, male or female - they have always been able to wear flat shoes."
Rossalyn Warren is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Rossalyn Warren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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