1 July 2016 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
The head of a front of house services firm has told an influential group of MPs that a dress code requiring women to wear tights, make-up and high heels was “industry driven”.
Simon Pratt, managing director of Portico, was answering questions at a House of Commons inquiry into high heels and workplace dress codes.
Pratt said Portico worked in three core sectors – corporate, prime residential and property – and that the look and appearance of employees’ in those sectors “can be very different, traditionally”.
Helen Jones, chair of the petitions committee, quizzed Pratt on the origin of these traditions. She asked why the dress code was so “particular about tights; you can’t wear fine black tights or grey tights but you can wear black opaque ones. Where has that come from?”
Pratt’s answer was that it was currently “industry driven.”
Another committee member, Ian Blackford MP, said: “I am aghast at the rules that you had. Light blusher, lip gloss, lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, light foundation powder… and then you talk about the length of skirts – are you saying this was your industry standard?”
Blackford also asked Pratt what Portico’s board of directors was doing to “take proper account” of the situation.
Pratt answered: “The guidelines were reviewed two years ago and were deemed acceptable… but I want to make it really clear that we got it wrong, it was outdated and we changed it as soon as we could.”
Scarlet Harris, women’s equality officer at the Trades Union Congress, who was also giving evidence, said: “In retail, transport, tourism and hospitality [there are] lots of jobs, particularly front of house, client-facing jobs, where women are expected to wear heels, and not just heels but also make-up and short skirts.”
Receptionist Nicola Thorp started a petition in protest after she was sent home by Portico for not wearing high heels. The petition gathered more than 137,067 signatures, which meant Parliament was obliged to consider the issue for debate in parliament.
Thorp was also giving evidence and when asked why the issue was not dealt with by human resources she told the committee: “Unfortunately, agency workers do not have much contact with human resources…I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to HR representatives because of being with an agency.”
The committee is to hold more evidence sessions to gather further oral evidence.
More on this story will appear in the July 2016 edition of FM World.