Many may have heard the news of temp receptionist, Nicola Thorp, who got sent home without pay for attending work in flat shoes and refusal to wear a 2-4 inch heel. Since then, Thorp has started a petition against this and people around the World has voiced their opinions on the matter. Buzzfeed even did a funny (empathetic) video of men in their office trying to do a days work in pointy high heels. Lastly, there is also a brief but great article that touches on sexism regarding heels in the workplace on Guardian.
In amongst all the commentary on this topic, I've also heard comments such as, "You don't have to wear 4 inch heels, you can wear 2 inch heel instead". To be honest, any kind of heel height can rip your feet apart if you're running around on your feet all day - and you definitely won't be feeling the joys of your job as much, or doing it well when you're bleeding from your toes. This is drawing from my personal experience in retail, where you couldn't even sit down for 30 seconds for your feet to find its real self again, until your break that was in 4 hours time. So the expectation for women to wear heels for work especially when it has nothing to do with their job or professionalism, is very dated. (Kudos to the girls who are able and happy to power through work and life in heels though!)
Fortunately for me, my employer (Liberty London) didn't have those heel height rules enforced upon us, understood the difficulties of heels for some and that you can actually look smart in flats. When we did wear heels (out of personal choice), myself and other girls would change back into flats later in the day when it got too much. And we didn't go from a professional appearance to a lesser one, we were just a few inches shorter and moving around more efficiently and comfortably.
Everyone has a different preference to footwear to which they find comfortable and makes them feel good, and if you feel good you get things done better. With the fashion industry being as vast as ever, there are definitely more styles and choices of flat smart footwear that are suitable for the workplace.