Belfast Telegraph

Women employees feel pressured to dress 'sexier' in workplace

Employers regularly tell women to put on more make-up, wear high heels and short skirts, according to new research.

Women workers said they felt targeted with 86% saying they felt pressured to dress "sexier" in order to protect their careers while 7% said their bosses had urged them to wear high heels in the office or with clients because it made them "more appealing".

The survey of 2,000 employees was commissioned by employment lawyers Slater and Gordon who noted "a rise" in the numbers of clients complaining about comments their bosses were making about their looks.

With women workers, 19% said they felt more attention was paid to their appearance by their bosses than to their male colleagues while 48% of men felt their dress code was more clearly defined and less likely to draw comment.

Josephine Van Lierop, of Slater and Gordon, described the results as "very disappointing but not surprising" adding remarks about a woman's appearance tended to come from sectors such as financial services, hospitality and the City.

The survey claimed 28% of women reported they had been advised that changing their appearance would be "better for business" while 13% said they had decided to flaunt more flesh at work after suggestions by more senior employees to vamp up their appearance.

In contrast 54% of men said their appearance had never been commented upon although 3% said they had been told to dress more smartly by their more senior colleagues. Male employees did say they had been told to remove hair dye, jewellery and cover any visible tattoos.

Wearing the same outfit often seemed to be frowned upon, according to 52% of women and 37% of women also said they felt expected to "refresh" their wardrobe on a regular basis.

Current UK employment law states a dress code can be used but this is usually imposed for health and safety reasons, or to promote a particular image, for example, of smartness and efficiency.

A dress code must not be discriminatory on protected grounds such as gender or religious belief, and disabled employees have the right to have adjustments made to alleviate disadvantage.

Ms Van Lierop said: "Under current UK employment law employers cannot treat one person less favourably because of their gender but there is no legislation to prevent employers from treating men and women differently in relation to dress code.

"Employers will argue that men and women must be dressed smartly or well-groomed for a person of their gender.

"However, in 2016 there is absolutely no expectation that women in business should wear make-up or high heels in order to be smartly dressed. Imposing this expectation on women only is arguably unlawful sex discrimination."