sexist bosses

Bosses tell women to be ‘sexier’ on video meetings

Sexier video calls

Bosses ask female staff to dress ‘sexier’ according to Slater and Gordon

I was shocked when I saw this headline come through from solicitors Slater and Gordon. Working in media, you often dress down to work wearing minimal make-up. Unless you have an important client meeting of course when most people are expected to look their best. Even in a ‘dressed-down’ way.

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Nicola Thorp ‘sent home from PwC for not wearing high heels‘ – remember this headline?

I remember this headline back in 2016. Nicola Thorp a receptionist at PwC, claimed she had been sent home for not wearing high heels. After refusing to buy a pair of heels, she was sent home without pay. Quoted in The Guardian, she said, “I was a bit scared about speaking up about it in case there was a negative backlash.”

Nicola started an online petition that gathered more than 152,400 signatures and triggered a debate in Parliament. The Government rejected calls for further legislation, saying that adequate laws were in place for gender discrimination. An article by the Independent found that An investigation by Commons committees found that women workers have been told to dye their hair, have manicures and wear revealing clothes by their bosses.

Bosses are telling female staff to dress ‘sexier’ and wear make-up for video calls

According to employment law specialists Slater and Gordon. New research has found that bosses are telling female staff to dress ‘sexier’ and wear make-up for video calls. Over 35% of UK women have experienced at least one sexist workplace demand since the lockdown started in March.

HR departments hoped to see a dramatic decline in reports of sexist behaviour, as offices closed down across the country. But this new research by Slater and Gordon shows sexism has instead found new and insidious ways to thrive online.

The most common ways men and women in positions of power justified lurid comments about dress included; saying it would ‘help to win new business’ (41%). It was important to ‘look nicer for the team’ (41%) and it would be more ‘pleasing to a client’ (38%).

Nearly 40% of women said these demands were targeted at them, or other women in their teams. Rather than equally with male peers, leaving them feeling objectified, demoralised and self-conscious about their appearance.

60% of women didn’t report requests to dress more provocatively to HR. A quarter agreed to boost their beauty regime for fear of a negative impact on their career.

Slater and Gordon employment lawyer Danielle Parsons said: “It is categorically wrong for a manager or anyone in a position of power to suggest, even politely, for a woman to be more sexually appealing in the workplace.

“This is a powerful form of coercion which makes women feel as if they must adhere to the manager’s request and be more visually pleasing to be successful at their job. This is demeaning to women.

“It’s extremely disappointing that we are still having these conversations, particularly during this time when women are juggling a multitude of roles from home, and may be also struggling with childcare responsibilities. This type of archaic behaviour has no place in the modern working world.

“Requests of this nature are discrimination and unlawful where male counterparts aren’t treated in this way, or where such unwanted requests create a humiliating or degrading environment for women.

Key points from ACAS

  • Employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in any dress code policy.
  • Employers may have health and safety reasons for having certain standards.
  • Dress codes must apply to both men and women equally, although they may have different requirements.
  • Reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled people when dress codes are in place.

An employer’s dress code must not be discriminatory in respect of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 for age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation.

A dress code can often be used by employers to ensure workers are safe and dressed appropriately. It should, however, relate to the job and be reasonable in nature, for example workers may be required to tie their hair back or cover it for hygiene reasons if working in a kitchen.

Employers may have a policy that sets out a reasonable standard of dress and appearance for their organisation. Any dress code should be non-discriminatory and should apply to both men and women equally. Standards can be different, for example a policy may state “business dress” for women but may state for men “must wear a tie”.

High heels and dress codes

Reports in the media highlighted the case of a temporary worker who was sent home without pay for refusing to wear high heels at work. Although staff can be dismissed for failing to comply with a dress code. Employers should be cautious when operating a dress code in this way. Any dress code should not be stricter, or lead to a detriment, for one gender over the other. It has been reported that wearing high heels can cause physical pain and even harm, and therefore may lead to a successful claim of direct discrimination on grounds of sex. 

Employers may adopt a more casual approach to dress during the summer, but this may depend on the type of business. Some employers may require staff to wear business dress all year because of the nature of the work. Sales representatives who meet with clients will need to maintain a certain standard. Employers may have a “no flip flop” policy as a health and safety precaution, but any restrictions should be clearly set out in the organisation’s policy.

When setting out a policy, employers should take into account employees who may dress in a certain way for religious reasons. However, workers can be required not to wear certain items that could be deemed a safety risk, e.g. loose clothing may be a hazard if operating machinery.

If employees do not comply with the standards it may result in a disciplinary hearing.

What do you think?

Have you experienced sexist comments during lockdown? Asked to dress up on screen for Zoom calls or Google Hangouts? Let me know in the comments below.