Women in Office Support Jobs: Should You Wear Heels?

Posted on Wednesday, April 13, 2022 by The Workplace AdvisorNo comments

It’s shocking to think that it has only been just over five years since a temping receptionist, Nicola Thorp, at PricewaterhouseCoopers in London was sent home without pay for not wearing 2–4 inch heels. Thorp knew that nine hours of office support work in London on her feet in high heels was sure to be uncomfortable, if not impossible, and rightly didn’t think it would affect her professionalism or ability to do the job.

While PwC backtracked and changed their dress code to permit women to wear flats, there was never any real acknowledgement that men would never be expected to work the same role in heels. Indeed, following a small flurry of excitement in the news, the issue quietened. What’s more, if the latest series of The Apprentice is anything to go by, we’ve made no progress at all.

However, new research has shown that it’s not just sexist to implement such dress codes; we actually take women in heels in the workplace less seriously. These studies have been led by North Carolina professor Sreedhari Desai.

How are you viewed if you wear heels at work?

The studies are fascinating. They looked at a range of workplace scenarios that are very familiar to anyone in office-based roles, such as giving a presentation or attending an interview. The only variable was whether the woman wore flat shoes or heels.

Shockingly, those wearing heels were deemed to be less capable and less prepared, and overall scored lower on a range of markers, compared to their flat shoe wearing counterparts. Perhaps even more worrying—it’s not as clear-cut sexism as we might like to think, as both men and women in the 20–50 age range made these subconscious, unfavourable assumptions.

The evidence shows that wearing heels at work can actually hold you back and alter people’s perception of your capabilities.

But heels are expected

Technically, London firms can have differing dress codes for men and women. However, requiring women to wear high heels could be seen as unlawful on health and safety grounds, as well as discriminatory if the standards imposed on men are not equal.

That being said, in many ways we’re not talking about the law; we’re talking about the unwritten expectations that you have to navigate every day. And the reality remains that for many in London office support jobs, you are still expected to wear heels to appear more professional. Indeed, some women find that wearing heels helps to increase their confidence, especially as it gives them height on par with male colleagues.

What matters is that you know the full story and the unconscious effect that heels have on the people around you, and choose the right footwear based on your own preferences. As long as you are professional and smart, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t choose flats and be confident in your decision.

Speak to other women about their experiences and share your thoughts. You should wear high heels at work because you want to, not because it’s expected.


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