Last year, a PwC receptionist was sent home from work without pay for failing to wear high heels at work.
Her petition led to an inquiry and parliamentary report that highlighted the unfair demands placed on women in the workplace, such as being forced to wear high heels and makeup.
Whilst it concluded that employers who discriminate on the grounds of appearance are violating the Equality Act 2010, it doesn’t prevent pressures on women who feel they need to dress a certain way in the workplace.
A recent totaljobs study found that one third of women claim to feel pressured to look a certain way at work – and 76% constantly find it difficult to decide what is appropriate.
But do you know the damage wearing high heels for prolonged periods can do?
Dr Christian Allard DC, Clinic Director at the UK’s leading back pain clinic, ProBack, spoke to HR Grapevine about the physiological dangers.
One such issue is the result of heels altering your centre of gravity. Allard explains that high heels increase the amount of weight that the forefoot (the front part of the foot) bears, and so pushes the body centre of gravity forward.
“If the body’s centre of gravity is moved forward, it also tends to create an anterior head carriage, meaning that the head is held forward,” he explains.
“Since the muscles of the spine are not designed to hold the head in a forward position for extended periods of time, the muscles start to get ‘fatigue’ and a muscle that is fatigued hurts, mainly due to the lactic acid (metabolite created by muscle contraction) that starts to accumulate. Lactic acid changes the histology of the muscle fibres and the muscles become hard and start to develop scar tissue.” Furthermore, whenever pain receptors are stuck in scar tissue, they will send the pain signals to the brain at an amplified rate – meaning you will experience more pain as a result.
Prolonged wearing of heels also has a detrimental effect on the position of the spine creating a low back extension. “This can move the thoracic spine (mid-back) backward and move the head forward,” Allard says. “The curves of the spine are responsible for about 80% of the shock absorption. Without proper curves, the spine and discs will have to take some of the load and wear faster.”
It also has been established that if the head is positioned as little as one inch forward, it is about 20% harder to breathe. “Since the heart is a pump, as the rib cage presses on the heart, it is also harder for the heart to pump the blood,” Allard warns.
With all these health risks, is it worth forcing your staff to wear these specific shoes?