COMMONS

Your petitions: Nicola Thorp's story

16 November 2016

Nicola Thorp started a petition after she was sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels. Her petition was signed by over 152,000 people and led to an inquiry by the Petitions Committee into workplace dress codes. Nicola discusses her campaign.

Last year I was sent home from work without pay because I refused to wear high heels in the office. I was told that it was ‘company policy’ to require women to wear 2-4 inch heels at all times.

When I called a citizens advice line, I was shocked to hear that an employer has the legal right to distinguish between a male and female dress code, as long as they are seen to be treating both sexes fairly. I argued that asking women to wear heels for 40 hours a week, was unfair and clearly sexist. Not only was it a health and safety issue, but the whole purpose and design of heels is intended to make a woman look ‘more attractive’. The same goes with makeup. There is no reason for a woman to have to wear either to be better at her job.

It seemed to me that the law was unclear, and was currently working against female employees. So I did what any millennial with a burning question would do: I googled it. ‘How do you change the law?’ and one of the results returned to me included a link to the government petitions site.

High heels petition

I set to work writing up a petition. It’s not as complicated as you might think, and you only have to write a short title, and a brief description of your cause. You do, however have to be clear on what it is you want to achieve, and why.

Once approved, I then shared the petition on facebook and it was then shared hundreds of times. Because of the nature of the petition, it got a lot of people talking, and sparked a debate, and in turn was picked up by news outlets and shared all over the media. I think the fact that the petition was created using the government site and guidelines, meant that people took it more seriously, as it was clear, depending on the amount of signatures, a government response was guaranteed.

Inquiry and debate

I had never expected the petition to gain over 100,000 signatures in only three days, and was delighted to attend an inquiry into dress code policy at Westminster some weeks later. And I am currently waiting to hear if the decision will be made to debate the issue to parliament. I hope it does, as I think that the response to the petition shows that this is an issue that many people care about and the time has come for a change in the law to set an example for women’s equality in the workplace, and to move forward in breaking down harmful gender stereotypes.

The attention that the petition received was overwhelming, and at times I thought ‘What on earth have I got myself in for?’, but I felt very strongly about the cause, and the fact that I was sharing a petition through the government petitions site made such a difference as it was taken seriously by my peers.

Find out more

The Petitions Committee's inquiry on high heels and workplace dress codes was launched in June 2016. The Committee held two public evidence sessions to hear from petitioners and experts. A web forum was also set up that allowed individuals to share their experiences. The Committee is due to publish its findings shortly in a report.

Get involved

The Petitions Committee looks back at what your petitions have achieved in its first year as part of UK Parliament Week 2016. UK Parliament Week is a programme of events and activities that connects people with the UK Parliament.

Image: Nicola Thorp
© Parliamentary copyright.

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