Ethnic Discrimination in The United Kingdom Via Corporate Appearance Standards

  • Ireoluwakitan Omoyeni

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis draws upon the legal interpretations of racial discrimination to analyse the efficacy of the Equality Act 2010 in preventing indirect discrimination of ethnic minorities via dress codes in the workplace. A sociological perspective on race and discrimination demonstrates that the law, by itself, may not be efficient in producing substantive equality. Specifically, the reality of corporate dress codes, through both a legal and sociological perspective, is focused upon to ascertain whether the law has truly paved the way for visible minority expression and the freedom to present oneself in accordance with ethnic, racial, and cultural values. Using a socio-legal approach, the methodology of this thesis includes both a library-based study and a case study of British law firms.

The combination of the chosen methodological approaches led to the deduction that whilst British businesses and organizations are seemingly devoted to diversity, there remains an implementation gap; minorities are subjected to dress standards indicative of a bias towards the majoritarian social group. Furthermore, it is asserted, from the analysis of the collated data, that the lack of understanding of race as a social construct, with strong ties to, but not synonymous
with, ethnicity has led to a scarcity of visible minority expressions. This is further revealed through the lack of accommodation of ethnic dress and cultural symbolisms in certain professional workplaces.

Ethnicity is presented as a legitimate characteristic unique to a group and with established traditions and shared values. It is asserted that ethnic dress is an essential aspect of manifesting ethnic group membership and should therefore be taken into account by corporations when dress policies are enforced. This is because ethnicity falls under the remit of Race in the Equality Act 2010. While it is accepted that employers have a valid interest in how their relevant brand is
projected to the public, this thesis contends that the aesthetic goals of employers are not compelling enough to justify prohibiting the authentic manifestation of minority identity through ethnic dress.

In addition, through an appraisal of the Equality Act 2010, it is contended that there is a gap in the legal protection offered to ethnic minorities, particularly those who deviate from the stereotypical expectations of their ethnic identity. The lack of relief offered in situations of individualistic, intersectional, or compound discrimination is particularly disadvantageous as an ethnic expression is often influenced by other personal traits.

For ethnic dress to be fully accepted in professional settings, the social norms that favour secularity need to be addressed. Information and research are scarce on how official dress codes often clash with the traditional appearance standards of ethnic minorities. This poses a substantial threat to the establishment of substantive equality in the British employment scene and demonstrates that more effort is needed to ensure visible diversity within the workforce. In this regard, greater governance is recommended to regulate corporate dress policiesto avoid the subtle coercion of ethnic minority staff into adopting majoritarian appearance norms.

This thesis concludes with the assertion that, concerning racial discrimination, sociological interventions are equally as important as legal instruments and that; further research is needed to comprehend how ethnic identity is affected by societal behaviour and normalized stereotypical bias.
Date of Award21 Apr 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorGauthier De Beco (Main Supervisor) & Laura Ford (Co-Supervisor)

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