British Columbia

Calls to update B.C. legislature's dress code about more than clothing, says MLA

Women at the B.C. legislature are fighting for the right to bare arms. At least three women have recently been told by the legislature's sergeant-at-arms staff to cover up in the hallways of the capital.

Speaker says dress code calls for 'gender-neutral business attire' for both men and women

Several reporters working at the B.C. Legislature decided to protest the rule by showing up to work baring their arms. (Dirk Meissner/Canadian Press)

Women at the B.C. legislature are fighting for the right to bare arms.

At least three women have recently been told by the legislature's sergeant-at-arms staff to cover up their arms in the hallways of the capital.

In protest, several female reporters and political staffers wore short-sleeved attire to work. Some say the issue is about more than simply clothing. 

Mitzi Dean, the parliamentary secretary for gender equity and the MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin, says she has no problem with a dress code.

But she is concerned about the gendered policing of women's attire.

"It isn't a trivial matter. This is a symptom of barriers that are in place for women and people who identify as women across the province in different areas of work and in different cultures of work as well," Dean told The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn. 

"This is a global issue where women are over-scrutinized and over-policed in terms of how they present what they wear,"

The dress code was last updated in 1980. 

Barriers

Dean says she worries barriers like strict attention to dress might deter women from entering certain workplaces. 

Speaker of the House Darryl Plecas said in a memo the legislature dress code calls for "gender-neutral business attire," generally consisting of of layered clothing that includes covered shoulders for both men and women.

Plecas also said there would be a review of the current dress code.

Dean is pleased the Speaker is reviewing the code, saying it needs to be refreshed and modernized.

"We want our legislature to reflect the people of British Columbia. And so, we need to make sure that the institutions and that the codes of conduct do not put barriers in the way of certain members of our communities and our citizens, in them actually engaging in being active members in the legislature."

What the dress code is for

Amy Robichaud, executive director of Dress for Success Vancouver and a former B.C. Liberal political consultant, says the intent of a workplace dress code is to create a space where everybody can be professional and respect each other.

Robichaud does not believe the legislature dress code is successfully doing this. 

"I think that's gone sideways. It's become a policing mechanism, as opposed to an enabling mechanism for people to do their jobs," Robichaud told BC Today guest host Jason D'Souza. 

Robichaud says strict policing of the code might hinder professional standards of inclusiveness or full participation in the workplace.

"Women face multiple institutional barriers to career advancement, to entry into the economy and to inclusion in their workplaces. This is one example of that," Robichaud said. 

Listen to the full story here:

With files by BC Today, Tina Lovgreen and The Early Edition

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