High heels have become an unexpected catalyst in a new fight for workplace rights. Nicola Thorp charged that her supervisor told her to leave work in December after she refused to wear two-to-four-inch high heel shoes, according to an article in The Guardian.
The temporary receptionist from the UK wore flats on her first day of work at Portico, a PwC outsourced reception firm. But when she refused to buy high heels and called out her bosses for discrimination, she was ordered to leave without pay.
“I said, ‘If you can give me a reason as to why wearing flats would impair me to do my job today, then fair enough,’ but they couldn’t,” Thorp told BBC Radio London according to The Guardianarticle. “I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said I just won’t be able to do that in heels.”
Bloodied Feet andPopping Painkillers To Numb The Pain
Nicola Gavins of Alberta, Canada, expressed her outrage on behalf of a friend who said she was forced to wear high heels even after losing a toenail. Gavins posted a photo of her friend’s feet covered in blood soaked stockings on Facebook and called out the restaurant where her friend worked, according to an article from HumanResources.
“My friend's feet were bleeding to the point she lost a toe nail and she was still discouraged and berated by the shift manager for changing into flats (specifically told that heels would be required on her next shift the following day),” the post read.
Unfortunately, these stories are not unique. Zara Barrie thought she landed a dream job as a makeup artist seven years ago when the New Yorker moved to London to work at a famous luxury department store with a renowned beauty department, according to an article from Elite Daily.
Then she learned that the makeup artists were required to wear black pumps at least three inches high while standing on a marble floor. Barrie, who wrote a first-person account of her experience for Elite Daily, started following the advice of her co-workers, who complained of “deformed feet,” and advised that she take painkillers kept under the register.
“I can’t tell you what hurt worse: My feet in the heels, or the shooting pain that would shoot down my legs when I took them off,” Barrie writes. “I, too, began popping painkillers just to get through the day.”
Barrie quit her job 15 months after starting and moved back to New York where she saw a doctor for the spider veins on her legs. It would cost several thousand dollars to remove them, but she has decided to leave them as a reminder that no job is worth that pain.
Taking the Fight Online With A Petition
The UK’s Thorp learned she wasn’t alone when she put up a Facebook post about her incident and heard from other women who told of similar experiences. She went a step further and released an online petition directing the UK Government and Parliament to take legislative action.
The petition, which has collected just under 141,000 signatures as of May 25, is well ahead of the 100,000 signatures needed before Parliament would consider the issue for debate. The Government responds to petitions once they received 10,000 signatures.
“It is still legal in the UK for a company to require female members of staff to wear high heels at work against their will,” the petition reads. “Dress code laws should be changed so that women have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work, if they wish. Current formal work dress codes are out-dated and sexist.”
In a video interview, Thorp took to task that a requirement for women to wear makeup and high heels is no different than requiring men wear a shirt and tie. “There is a history behind heels and the damage that it can do to women and there is a sexualized element to it as opposed to a shirt and tie for a man,” she said. “There just is that difference and it is steeped in a history of sexism and objectification.”
A spokesman for Portico said that its requirements follow standard industry practice. “These policies ensure staff are dressed consistently and include recommendations for appropriate style of footwear for the role,” the spokesman said. “We have taken on board the comments regarding footwear and will be reviewing our guidelines in consultation with our clients and team members.”
A PwC spokesman said the firm only learned about the incident earlier this month. The firm also noted in a statement that “it does not have specific dress guidelines for male or female employees, but we do ask our people to exercise their own judgment around the business environment they’re operating in,” according to an article from HumanResources.
High Heel Backlash May Be Gaining Momentum
While high heels may still be seen as a way for women to display power in the workplace, painful consequences are causing more and more women to rebel, according to an article from Fortune.
“Wearing heels regularly appears to weaken ankle muscles in the long term, and can generally wreak havoc from the foot all the way up to the spine,” Fortune’s Colleen Kane notes in the 2015 article. “Research shows that the amount of high heel related injuries has doubled in a recent ten-year span.”
Rachel Harrison, 39, saw high heels as an essential part of moving up in the corporate world. But when she became chief marketing officer at Island Outpost Resorts, she “decided that people cared less about what I wore on my feet and more about my leadership skills.”
Flora Theden also became fed up with the high heels, she told Fortune. The then 26-year-old account executive with Brandsway Creative in New York said “it seems like you’re trying way too hard if you’re strutting around in six-inch heels all the time.” “I think it almost looks dated and uncool at this point,” she added.