London – An air hostess said she was made to feel like a “prostitute” by British Airways as they forced her to wear high heels and make-up to look “sexy”.
Ruth Campion, who worked as cabin crew for nearly two years, revealed that women were made to use lipstick and told to make their hair less frizzy.
Speaking to MPs for an inquiry on dress codes, she said female staff were told they could not wear cardigans as they looked “frumpy”.
Also giving evidence was a sales assistant who said she had been forced to unbutton her blouse and wear a shorter skirt.
Miss Campion said she felt “dehumanised” and “humiliated… to be made to specifically wear items of uniform that sexualised my appearance or enhanced my sexuality”.
She told a joint petitions and women and equalities committee: “It made me feel extremely uncomfortable…For an employer to tell me that I need to do that in order for the business to have a certain image, it made me feel akin to being prostituted.”
Miss Campion claimed BA made its dress code for women “sexier” after 2010. Women who joined after this could not wear cardigans as they were deemed “frumpy” and “not very attractive”, she said, ‘”we had to make do with our bare arms.” She added: “A couple of times I got told to re-apply my lipstick…I wasn’t wearing enough make-up.”
Miss Campion claimed one of her managers told her that her hair was too “fluffy like a cloud” – and one manager carried hair spray around to enforce flatter hair.
“I don’t understand how that affects the service you give on an airline,” the hostess added.
The inquiry was set up after a receptionist was sent home on the first day of a job when she refused to wear stilettos.
Nicola Thorp, 27, arrived at a London office of accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers in black flat shoes. She said she was told to buy heels – and was “laughed at” when she questioned the “sexist” dress code.
Her petition for a legal ban on forcing women to wear high heels at work attracted more than 100 000 signatures – the threshold at which it must be considered for parliamentary debate. Miss Thorp told MPs: “Ten years ago it was skirts, now it is heels, next year it will be make-up, and it is now, what else, hairstyles?”
She said she had worked for Harrods, where one employee had told her staff they needed a makeover. One black woman was allegedly told she had to have her hair chemically treated to make it flatter.
Miss Thorp added: “You have to carry lipstick with you at all times to top it up, it was just humiliating. Girls would be in tears because their feet were bleeding.”
Sales assistant Emma Birkett, also giving evidence, said: “In retail I was actively encouraged at Christmas time to wear shorter skirts and unbutton a blouse a little…We were encouraged… to flirt a little to try and encourage the gentleman customer to spend a little more.
“I felt offended… I could use my skills and product knowledge to do that.”