Taking Stock: PwC receptionist turned on her heel over sexist dress code debacle

IN A MOVE that would surely have had Emmeline Pankhurst spinning in her grave, a PwC receptionist was sent home on her first day for wearing flat shoes instead of high heels.

Temp worker Nicola Thorp from Hackney arrived to work at one the Big Four firm’s London offices only to be told she must wear shoes “with a two-to-four inch heel” by the outsourced staff agency Portico, which provides PwC’s receptionists.

Understandably, Thorp complained, and pointed out that male colleagues were not subject to such rules. Thereafter, she was sent home without pay.

Despite, at 2016, being well into the 21st Century, TS was astonished to learn that Portico had the law on its side. It’s something Thorp has taken action on, launching a petition to change the law on workplace dress codes, which at the time of writing has attracted nearly 18,000 signatures and is growing an incredible rate.

It’s an episode that does not sit very comfortably against the context of the preceding few years, in which PwC has made great play of championing the advancement and recognition of female talent. Its former UK managing partner Ian Powell, in particular, was a keen advocate of increasing the number of female partners at the firm.

There is no word as yet on what next steps [pun intended – Ed] PwC will take, but TS would tentatively suggest it would rather be in Thorp’s shoes than Portico’s.

In statements, PwC said it first became aware of this matter on 10 May some five months after the issue arose and that the dress code referenced is not a PwC policy. “We are now in discussion with Portico about reviewing the detail of their uniform guidelines.

“The dress code referenced in the media is not a PwC policy. PwC does not have specific dress guidelines for male or female employees, but we ask our people to exercise their own judgement around the business environment they’re operating in.”

A Portico spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that the individual in question did report to work for Portico with inappropriate footwear on 7 December 2015, having previously signed the appearance guidelines. Upon arrival, they were advised by Portico that they would need to be dressed in accordance with the guidelines to complete their shift and were offered the opportunity to source alternative shoes. Having declined said opportunity, the individual chose to return home and not complete the shift.

“It is common practice within the service sector to have appearance guidelines and Portico operates them across many of our corporate locations. These policies ensure customer-facing staff are consistently well presented and positively represent a client’s brand and image.  They include recommendations for appropriate style of footwear for the role. We have taken on board the comments regarding footwear and will be reviewing our guidelines.”

Related reading