In a step in a less sexist direction, British Columbia has finally said no to mandatory high heel dress codes at work. Servers, bartenders and other sexualized workers no longer need to risk spraining their ankles just to get paid once the new B.C. high heel ban comes into effect. Praise the freakin’ lord.
Last week, B.C. lawmakers amended the province’s Workers’ Compensation Act to say that employers can’t force workers to wear shoes that inhibit their ability to safely perform their job, or cause them potential harm. Heels—especially high ones—fall into this category. Why it’s taken the gov decades to realize that forcing women to wear heels for hours on end is harmful is beyond us, but the point is it’s law now—at least in part of the country.
While this move is being celebrated as a win for overall gender equality, it’s particularly important to females in the B.C. serving industry. Bars and restaurants with notoriously sexist dress codes (think women in uniform miniskirts and men in dress pants) often require female employees to wear heels. Waiting on people is already a physically taxing job, and carrying trays of food and drinks from slippery kitchen floors to dining rooms in wobbly heels? Super dangerous—and bad for your bod. It’s infuriating to think that women have been forced to wear painful and unsafe footwear at work just to look sexy, while men have been getting by in non-slip shoes. Ugh.
The debate about sexist dress codes in Ontario is still ongoing. In 2016—on International Women’s Day—the Ontario Human Rights Commission called for an end to sexualized workplace uniforms. The commission highlighted that the problem is rampant in “bars, restaurants and other services that require women to dress in high heels, tight dresses, low-cut tops and short skirts.” Last month, a year after the urgent call to action, the commission released a report that basically said restaurants and bars with problematic uniforms—like Earls and Moxie’s—expressed interest in discussing dress codes, but many establishments didn’t do much to change their policies. The report found that Moxie’s and Shoeless Joe’s have not amended requirements that employees must wear their hair down, and while JOEY restaurant, a place where a woman said she was forced to wear heels despite bleeding feet, does now allow a pants option for females (how generous), the chain has not confirmed new uniform options. Earls, however, now “lets” women wear pants.
The rest of Canada seriously needs to step up and ban high heels from dress codes. While a woman—or anyone, for that matter—can sport a six-inch heel whenever they please, no one should be forced to do so at work. High heels are not necessary for doing a job properly. In fact, the only purpose heels serve is to further sexualize and objectify women in the workplace. Allowing women to wear whatever the hell they want on their feet, granted their footwear is safe, is not a big ask. It’s one small step for employers, but it’s an important and necessary step for women.