Op-Ed

Photo: CC, stokpic.

Sexualized dress codes create barriers to acceleration in, entry to workplace

Last week, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a policy position calling for an end to sexualized dress codes. Dress codes requiring uniforms such as short skirts, tight clothing and short tops were denounced as being sexist and reinforcing sexual stereotypes. Shortly after, male employees at local Ottawa restaurant Union Local 613 all wore miniskirts and high heels for a day to protest against sexism in the restaurant industry.

Regardless of this expression of solidarity, discrimination is still a problem in Canada. A recent investigation by CBC Marketplace found that staff at several top restaurant chains were routinely pressured into wearing revealing uniforms. This is a travesty, and this is why the policy paper’s recommendations should be adopted as soon as possible.

Employees of any gender, be it male, female, transgender or other, should be held to the same standards as any other employee. There is no justifiable reason to discriminate against certain employees and, in the wake of this paper’s release, it’s unlikely employers will be able to defend the practice of enforcing a dress code that calls for sexualized uniforms. Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, everyone is entitled to equal treatment in the workplace without regards to gender.

Not only do uniform policies create barriers to working women, they also create barriers for different groups of women trying to enter the workplace. For example, a devout muslim woman may want to work as a waitress, however a standard of sexualized clothing may either deter her from applying, or lead the manager to reject her application on unfair grounds.

Not only are we dealing with discrimination in restaurants based on gender, but with sexualized dress codes restaurants create potential barriers to entry for women that come from religious backgrounds.

As well as being morally wrong, the policy is also stupid. People work better in an environment in which they feel comfortable and empowered. While branding is important, an intelligent employer should be able to find a balance between selling the brand and encouraging a healthy workplace. In fact, those goals should be mutually compatible.

Forcing employees to wear painful and revealing uniforms hurts business more than it helps. Sometimes, the uniforms can even cause long-term physical damage, such as when employees are forced to wear high heels for extended periods of time.

If these physical strains take a toll on the woman to the point that she quits, the company will be forced to go through the costly process of recruiting and hiring. Clearly, forced dress codes aren’t in the employer’s best interest either.

Not only do these dress codes contribute to enforcing sexist norms, they continue anti-employee norms, where employees are considered more as tools of the employer rather than individuals entering into a mutual exchange of goods and services. When we sign a contract, we consent to work with others towards a common goal, not to be an indiscriminate tool for an employer. Just as importantly, when we sign a contract, we should be doing so as an equal of the other party.

Of course, this issue shouldn’t take away the right of an employee to wear certain clothes if they choose to do so. An employee should have the right to wear whatever they want, as long as their choice of clothing doesn’t create an unhealthy workplace environment.

It seems that sexualized uniform policies at restaurants are in no one’s best interest. As such, adopting the recommendations set forth by the Ontario Human Rights Commission would be good news for the employer as much as the employee.