Workplace Dress Codes (High Heels) — [Mr David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:36 pm on 6th March 2017.

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Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Chair, Petitions Committee 5:36 pm, 6th March 2017

I thank all colleagues who have spoken in this debate. Among the parliamentarians here, I see women of different ages, shapes and heights. We have all managed to do our job without anyone telling us how to dress—funnily enough, it does not matter. We need to get that message across to employers.

My hon. Friend Gill Furniss, who has had to leave the debate, spoke about the impact that wearing high heels can have. My hon. Friend Liz McInnes rightly said that the best dress codes are limited in scope and do only what they have to do. My hon. Friend Paula Sherriff pointed out how degrading many women find the requirements imposed on us. Kirsten Oswald brought to bear her own experience of working in personnel and set out what needs to be done. As many hon. Members have said, a clear message needs to go out today that employers need to review their practices in this area. I was pleased to hear that the Minister has written to trade bodies to get them to remind employers about their duties under the Equality Act 2010, because too much discrimination still goes on in the workplace.

Anyone who suggests that a woman can only do her job wearing 3 or 4 inch heels does not understand the job and has never spent the day in heels. Anyone who suggests that we choose an airline based on the shade of lipstick worn by the female cabin crew really needs to wake up and smell the coffee. It is outrageous that such things are still going on today. Equality in the workplace should be a given; it should not be something that people constantly have to fight for. It benefits employees, but in the long term it also benefits employers, because it gives them a much more diverse workforce with different skills and attitudes.

I am glad that the Minister has made it clear today that she shares our concern about discriminatory behaviour and that she knows that it is unacceptable. I look forward to the Government’s response to the Committees’ report. In the end, however, women have to be able to enforce their rights; we can get only so far with information and exhortation. At the end of the day, people need to go to a tribunal. It is a long time since I practised law, because I have been here in Parliament for nearly 20 years, but I do not see a difference between what the Minister calls a “strategic” case and a test case. I think they are exactly the same thing and I will be glad to see the Equality and Human Rights Commission taking on some further cases in this area.

I also thank Nicola Thorp, who started this petition. Already, it has achieved a great deal and I hope that we will achieve more in the long term. She put her head above the parapet and endured a lot of abuse on social media for doing so. As I said before, these issues are not trivial; they contribute to a toxic atmosphere in the workplace that demeans women and does not give them equality. I hope that we shall move on from our report to ensure that such equality becomes not just an aspiration but a reality in the workplace for all women, even those who are poorly paid and in insecure jobs.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered e-petition 129823 relating to high heels and workplace dress codes.

Sitting adjourned.