Time has come to crack the staff dress code

Employers including Eurostar and the Professional Golfers’ Association have
recently found themselves on the wrong end of sex discrimination proceedings
for refusing to let women staff wear trousers. But is this really an issue
worth wasting personnel time and company money on in the 21st century?

Nigel Connolly
HR manager, EasyJet

If you’ve got nothing better to do than worry about whether staff wear
trousers or shirts, then you’re not spending enough time on your business. I
think people should be able to wear whatever they want as long as they can
operate in it. When you’ve got customer-facing staff it’s important they put
across the right image of the company but our cabin crew wear trousers or
skirts, whichever they prefer.

I think it’s such an old-fashioned, redundant question, I can’t see why
Eurostar is wasting its time on it. We have a no-tie policy and we call people
by their first names because it breaks down traditional organisational
barriers. No one, from chairman and directors down, wears a tie, even if we’re
meeting people outside. We’ve got to be true to our values – it’s not just
about a piece of silk or a skirt.

Julie Mellor
Chair of the EOC

HR managers should be concerned about whether female staff can wear trousers
because if they’re not allowed to, or are sacked for doing so, it may result in
a costly and time-consuming sex discrimination claim. It’s certainly an issue
that seems to have touched a nerve. Newspapers and radio stations have had
phone-ins on the subject and most callers say it’s archaic to expect women to
wear skirts for work all the time.

Women have been wearing trousers in all settings and walks of life for many
years – even women barristers and MPs wear them for work. This makes it even
more shocking that as we enter a new century, battles over stereotyping are
continuing.

Some employers still have old-fashioned views about what women should wear
for work. Our advice to HR managers would be: look at your company’s dress code
and if it does discriminate in this way, get it updated straight away.

Aileen Downie
Training and development manager at GNER

Our policy is that any female, no matter where they work in the business,
has the option of wearing trousers. It’s something we introduced for equal
opportunities reasons. We had new uniforms when we changed to GNER about two
years ago, to go with our livery. Over the past year all parts of the business
have been able to order trousers for female staff.

A lot of our staff are working on platforms and places where it might be
colder so trousers can be more comfortable. But concerns have been raised that
too many females are wearing trousers on board. I still think there’s a view
that a skirt is smarter. We wouldn’t want it to turn around so that everybody
wore trousers. We would try to encourage women not to wear their trousers all
the time.

Dawn Butler
London regional organiser for the GMB and on the negotiating team for
the Eurostar case

"I think it’s a waste of time, energy and resources. These sorts of
discussions should not be going on. Individuals should be judged on the job
they do, not what they’re wearing.

If you’ve got a uniform for safety or security reasons then it’s justified
but if you have somebody in a uniform because they look nice then it’s not
justified.

Women have come so far and have worked so hard, often they have to be better
than male counterparts. Judging them on whether they look good in a dress
defeats the object of working so hard. I am insulted that Securitas was saying
women can only be identified if they have a skirt on. In that case would a
woman be identified easier if she had a low-cut top on?

Airlines can’t justify that. Do women have to be slim with blond hair and
blue eyes to work as a member of the cabin crew? When the Human Rights Act
comes in latyer this year, that will have to be seriously looked at.

If we’re pandering to the needs of men who like to see women in skirts then
we should do a survey of women customers, too: they may prefer to see men in
tight trousers and little tops. I think Eurostar was surprised that more than
80 per cent of customers said they weren’t bothered whether female staff were
wearing skirts or trousers."

Marian White
General manager, human resources overseas, at Thomson Holidays

I don’t think the issue is whether they’re wearing trousers or skirts as
long as they’re comfortable, professional and smart. It’s not the trousers that
matter, it’s the whole look.

At the moment all our female overseas staff wear skirts or dresses. None
have trousers included but our children’s reps wear shorts because they’re down
on their hands and knees a lot looking after the children. A lot of our reps
are working in hot conditions so a skirt is cooler and more comfortable than
trousers. Women reps wear a skirt or dress, rather than shorts, when they’re
meeting customers at the airport.

We keep these things under review all the time and are constantly talking to
the staff about what they wear and what’s comfortable. At the moment that’s
what the uniform is but it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to stay that
way.

Elaine Horner
Group equality and diversity manager, Barclays Bank

It wouldn’t even enter my head to think about it. We have saris as part of
our corporate wear. They do have a crop top they put with the sari, and the
only thing we insist on is that it is not worn with a skirt or trousers. Staff
just order trousers or skirts as they need them.

I’m not sure whether we’d take much notice. I’m sitting here now in a
trouser suit and I wear trousers about three times a week. It’s all about
trying to get it into perspective. You are trying to portray an image of
professionalism and confidence. Really all we’re interested in is that people
look appropriately dressed.

It’s a bit old hat isn’t it? Even when I was working in a branch in Coventry
in the early 1980s we were wearing trousers. I’d say 20 years or more ago it
might have been an issue. Probably then a manager might have been able to say
they didn’t like you wearing trousers, and not to do it. These days they’d
probably have a riot on their hands.

Bruce Warman
Director of personnel for Vauxhall Motors

I don’t think this is something HR directors should be wasting their time
with. I think the only issue is that staff should look reasonably smart and
clothes should not be unsafe.

Sometimes I think skirts would be more dangerous than trousers – we wouldn’t
have women wearing trousers on the production line, for example. Apart from
being dangerous it’s not very decorous either because they are bending down a
lot.

We have quite a few women in the offices and some wear trousers, some
skirts. As I’m talking now there’s a female employee outside my window, and
she’s wearing trousers as it happens.

In Europe I’ve noticed some of the airlines have all female staff wearing
skirts so I’d be interested to know what their view is. For sales staff in our
dealerships, dress code is decided locally – some have uniforms, others don’t.

Compiled by Katherine Burke

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