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How PwC responded to that pair of heels

Last week PwC hit the headlines after a receptionist was sent home from work after refusing to wear high heels.

PwC On Friday their Head of People and Executive Board Member Gaenor Bagley @gaenorbagley published a searingly honest article on the PwC blog.

In it, she shared their side of the story and how they have “learnt the hard way it is critical that the employment policies and values of our supply chain reflect our own”.

What happened?

According to the BBC, Temp worker Nicola Thorp, 27, was reportedly told she had to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in heel”.

Pwc-logoWhen she refused and complained male colleagues were not asked to do the same, she was sent home without pay.

Outsourcing firm Portico said Ms Thorp had “signed the appearance guidelines” but it would now review them.

The story has made global news, with many publications (rightly!) criticising the decision.

Let’s look at what Gaenor Bagley wrote. I find it refreshing. Not least because she admits the incident is embarrassing and shares her own opinions of the situation.

She writes:

Stepping up – what a pair of heels has taught us  

PwC“Equality in the workplace has come a long way since the sex discrimination act was passed in 1975, but Nicola Thorp’s petition to make it illegal for companies to require women to wear heels at work is a stark reminder about how far there is still to go.

Many people in my organisation, including myself, support the sentiments behind the petition, because any form of inequality is unacceptable and I’m sorry that any individual has had a bad experience with us.

As a business that places diversity at the heart of our organisation, the fact that the debate over high heels at work was sparked by an incident while Ms Thorp was due to work at one of our offices is embarrassing. That’s why we took immediate action with the contractor that employed Ms Thorp.

Put simply, such policies don’t reflect who we are.

We work together with our suppliers to make sure that they match our sustainability aspirations. But we have learnt the hard way that it is critical that the employment policies and values of our supply chain reflect our own. We are reviewing our suppliers’ employment policies in detail as a result.

We strongly believe that everyone should be allowed to be themselves at work and we are committed to promoting equality in the workplace.

This isn’t lip service, this underpins our values and culture.

We’ve taken bold steps to ignite change. This includes being one of the first firms to publicly report our gender pay gap, setting and publishing gender and ethnicity targets and scrapping UCAS scores as entry criteria for our graduate roles.

But all of this fades into the background if we don’t pay attention to the finer details that affect people in their daily working lives.

If we really want equality in the workplace, we need to make sure that every aspect of our business and supplier relationships have the same core values.

Ms Thorp’s experience shows how important it is to ensure we achieve this for each and every interaction. But there is no excuse for not tackling it. And we will.”

What do you think? Would your organisation blog like this? I applaud Gaenor for her candour and sharing her own personal views in relation to the situation.

What I think

PetitionI’m heartened to read they are reviewing their policies and encouraged by the fact their Head of People is someone who genuinely seems to realise this issue is bigger than a pair of shoes.

But more than that, using the PwC blog to air her personal views and agreement with the petition, which currently has nearly 130,000 signatures, stands out for me.

We talk a lot in our organisations about the need to really live our values and walk the walk (in whatever shoes we wish).

Do you know what the policies are of the companies you contract to represent your organisation?

If there’s anything to learn from this whole situation, that’s one to be mindful of. Do you know? Could this have been your company?

I also spotted this via Twitter today. Love it!

The story also sparked a Twitter moment, with women around the globe Tweeting their #FawcettflatsFriday:


As ever I welcome your thoughts. You can Tweet me @allthingsIC or comment below.

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Founder of All Things IC communication consultancy. Chartered PR Practitioner and CIPR Fellow.

  1. The bigger issue to wrap our minds around is PwC’s commitment to gender pay equity! Now that’s a 21st conversation all companies should employ policies and ensure best practices around. It creates a level playing field for the person, the company and our economy!! Go PwC – Stepping into Excellence!

  2. I never wore heels especially at work in my entire life, as it can cause quite extensive health issues, back, etc.. 2 inches is far too high. However my point is now PwC is updating their regulation? Now? How many years now we have discussed about equality? And why temp agencies do not update their regulation either? Do we really need to be “sexi” at work? By the way women could wear suit and tie, some do it, occasionally, they simply do not want to. However if you work in the banking industry you need to have “male style clothing” as one of my friends said once, on the contrary, they do not take you seriously. This means if you are a receptionist, you should to be “sexi”, while if you are a woman banker you have to dress like a man??? Which sort of world do we live in?

  3. Requiring women to wear high heels as part of a dress code isn’t sexist. It’s a reasonable requirement of someone who is front of house. It’s no more sexist than requiring men to wear a suit and tie whereas woman don’t have to wear the same. I am all for equality but is this not equality gone mad.

    1. Precisely, and the dress code was signed off by the employee – “Outsourcing firm Portico said Ms Thorp had “signed the appearance guidelines”

      Right or wrong the dress code is at the behest of the employer. If the dress code states “wear one black shoe and one white shoe” and is accepted (by the employee) as a condition of employment then that must be adhered to by the employee. The employee does NOT dictate to the employer. By all means negotiations could take place to refine the “conditions of employment” to suit both parties.

      If the conditions of employment are unacceptable to the prospective employee, then said employee should not apply for the role. This in turn may limit the range of candidates for the role and therefor the employer may lose a potentially fantastic employee. Such is “the lot” of the employer.

      This by the way, is NOT about equality, extrapolating Ms Thorp’s complaint that “males were not asked to do the same”, males were also not requested to wear dresses.

  4. I think the bigger issue here is that regularly wearing high heels causes a lot of health issues with feet, ankles, knees, and the lower back. 2 inches is actually quite tall given the way they affect the mechanics of walking and increase your chance of injury.

    You can look smart without wearing heels – there are some very professional and business-appropriate flat shoes available. While the ‘men don’t have to do it’ argument is facetious in this case, I think there is good reason to say that a person shouldn’t be required to wear something for their job that increases their chance of injury or physical damage. And it’s likely that she signed the agreement without reading it properly (as many people do) or didn’t think they would seriously require her to wear high heels for her work if she looks otherwise professional.

  5. I tend to agree with the comments made by Lauren. I have worn heels throughout my entire business life – a long time. Heels look smarter with skirt-suits. I could understand if the employee had been requested to wear 6 inch heels but between 2 – 4 inch is reasonable. If the employee had a medical problem or was pregnant that required flat shoes that is different but the fact that men are not required to wear heels is a ridiculous comparison.

  6. What is the world coming to when people can agree to certain criteria in a contract and then whine and complain when they are expected to uphold what they agreed to? As for the whole “why don’t men have to” argument, well, it is because high heels are a fashion criteria for WOMEN. So I suppose that if a firm requires men to wear a tie and jacket, then the men should refuse because “women don’t have to”? Actually, now that I think of it, I think companies should refuse to sell bikini tops to women because they don’t sell them to men! What rubbish! Companies have the right to set dress codes. Don’t like it? Do work for them.

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