Many people have made and continue to make negative assumptions when it comes to women in business.
Some assume that because I run Ann Summers that my bedroom must look like a scene from Fifty Shades of Grey, and a shelf of our bestselling products are in pride of place.
I’m sorry to disappoint anyone reading this, but it doesn’t. Curiously, I haven’t met anyone that thinks that Mike Ashley might be a great sportsman because he sells a lot of sports kits.
“The parliamentary inquiry concluded that discriminatory dress codes remain widespread, despite the fact that they are illegal”
New visitors to our head office are always eager to see what goes on behind our closed doors – I think they often assume that we’ll all be swinging from chandeliers in stockings and suspenders.
They always look slightly deflated when they find everyone hard at work.
Just the other week the Parliamentary Petitions and Women and Equalities Committee reported on their inquiry into the 150,000 signature petition that supported Nicola Thorp – the receptionist who was shamefully sent home, without pay, for refusing to wear high heels at work.
In just one week, the forum they set up received 730 responses from others like Nicola, many of whom had similar tales to tell.
The parliamentary inquiry concluded that discriminatory dress codes remain widespread, despite the fact that they are illegal.
Illegal dress codes
High heels were called out for being painful and women described dress codes that they were told to adhere to as being “humiliating”, “degrading”, or “demeaning”.
Like most of you, I assumed that we’d moved beyond all this in business and as a society.
I thought the challenges we faced were the gender pay gap, the lack of women on boards and minimal support for childcare costs – not companies dressing their female staff, for what I can only presume is to appeal to men.
History is often cyclical and we’re living in Trumpestuous times where seemingly misogyny, prejudice, racism and sexism have become tolerated in word, if not deed.
As managers, leaders and organisations of huge influence, we must be alert to the increasing acceptance of ‘locker-room banter’, and make sure it stays out of our staff rooms and off our shop floors.
“We’re living in Trumpestuous times where seemingly misogyny, prejudice, racism and sexism have become tolerated in word, if not deed”
We must also ask ourselves what more can we do as businesses to protect and promote our values and our staff.
Among our business goals must be the objective of removing all discrimination and rebalancing our teams to ensure equality for all.
We can’t rely on the governments in the countries in which we trade to do it for us.
It is often the same people who make assumptions about me that also make false assumptions about the business I run, the products we sell, and the customers who buy them.
The enlightened see an organisation driven by female empowerment, sexual confidence and, in our party plan business, financial independence.
There is, of course, a time and a place for everything.
Whether high heels aren’t always fit for purpose in the workplace or not, it’s safe to say discrimination definitely isn’t.
High heels have a place – whenever women want to wear them.