Are the days of high heels at work finally over? | Tayo Bero
AAs more and more people return to work in person, there are plenty of reasons to be unenthusiastic: micro-managed bosses, hellish commutes, that co-worker you just can’t stand. There is also the scourge of women at work: heels.
Women have long lamented the unfair and sexist norms that force many of us to wear heels in the office – from the physical discomfort of having to work in stilettos for hours on end, to the misogynistic tropes that are projected onto women who wear high heels, especially in male-dominated spaces.
Finally, however, there is new research to validate these experiences. To find out how heels actually affect women’s careers, University of North Carolina professor Sreedhari Desai and her team conducted a series of studies on how people rated women in various work settings. These scenarios included leading a class, delivering a presentation, attending a job interview, and participating in a negotiation, with the only variable being whether the woman was wearing high heels or flats.
The results? Women wearing flats were seen as more capable and better prepared, and received higher ratings from both men and women in their twenties through fifties.
There really is no victory. For one thing, women working in corporate, retail, and the hospitality industry are often required to wear heels as part of their dress code. It’s a norm built on centuries of dressing women in the male gaze and forcing them to subscribe to misogynistic norms of femininity. But, as the study shows, women in heels are also taken much less seriously at work than women who wear flats.
Even outside of the workplace, the choice to wear high heels continues to be fraught with cultural and political baggage. Women are simultaneously sexualized, viewed as powerful, and shunned — all based on how we choose to protect our feet from the elements. And for as long as women have known they are treated differently because of the type of shoes they wear, issues of sex discrimination based on clothing have been dismissed as inane and superficial.
Desai is correct when she describes her research on heels as “a keyhole…through which we can examine the larger question of how gender inequality is created or recreated and maintained over time. time in organizations. Heels can help both highlight and deepen gender inequalities in the workplace, and are just one of the many ways working women are stripped of power over their own bodies.
In a now infamous example from 2016, London-based Nicola Thorp was fired home without pay from her job at PricewaterhouseCoopers for refusing to wear two- to four-inch heels in accordance with the company’s dress code for women. employed. The incident sparked outrage around the world and reignited conversations about gendered dress codes and how dangerous they are.
PwC has since changed its policy, but the legacy of this incident coupled with research like Desai’s is crucial – not only because they affirm what women have always known anecdotally, but because they help to provide a starting point for how to actually address this problem at a systemic level.
Thorp’s case led to a petition in the UK House of Commons that would make it illegal to require women to wear heels to work, and in recent years governments around the world have been scrutinizing what employers have been authorized to apply in matters of dress codes.
Does this mean that the days of high heels at work are finally coming to an end? Well, it is clear that the tide is already turning. And as the pandemic gives us more and more reason to consider the nature of our relationship to work, we can look forward to the day when women can show up to work and be assessed on the merit of their work, and not on how they were dressed. That day.