PWC hit the headlines last week after sending a receptionist home for wearing flat shoes.

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.

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

The story made global news sparking debate about firms in 2016 still insisting women wear heels. Some said it was outrageous, others said it was political correctness gone mad and it also provided a side debate on why men have to wear suits in the summer when women have a broader dress code.

On Friday, Gaenor Bagley, Head of People and Executive Board Member at PWC recorded a searingly honest video which she published to the PWC Blogs.

In it, she discusses how PWC have “learnt the hard way it is critical that the employment policies and values of our supply chain reflect our own” as well as highlights their embarrassment at the incident.

I applaud Gaenor for her honesty and sharing her own personal views in relation to the situation. It came across a lot more human than PWC’s original statement:

“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.”

The news was also met with the twitter hashtag, #FawcettflatsFriday including this little gem from some of the ladies at PWC also highlighting that this isn’t a common theme throughout the organisation.

What I think
I’m glad to hear that PWC are reviewing their policies and think it’s great that Gaenor expressed her personal views on the PWC blog. She is clearly in agreement with Thorp’s petition which is currently supported by over 130,000 signatories.

Having experienced similar treatment when I worked for one of the UK’s largest IT re-sellers, I am thrilled that somebody has spoken out about these archaic dress codes. As a junior salesperson, I was presenting in front of senior management about my progress and instead of commenting on the content of my deck, I was met with criticism (from the women, not the men interestingly!) on wearing flat shoes (pointed smart ones from KG I might add!) and my hair being too blonde to be taken seriously. At the time, although I was taken aback – I just assumed this was normal feedback you would be given. In hindsight, I wish I told the room of dragons to stick their programme up their ar*es!

If there’s anything to learn from this whole situation, it’s to recognise when this behaviour goes on and use the power of social media to shout about it.

What PRs can learn from Heelgate
It is very difficult for a large corporation to be seen as human in this sort of situation as PWC’s original statement demonstrated. However, it was the authenticity of Bagley’s response that really resonated with people in acknowledging the incident and highlighting the struggle of gender equality in the workplace.

Regular updates from PWC on how they are improving things going forward would be beneficial for the firm as well as continued encouragement of #FawcettflatsFriday to prove that footwear is not an issue within the corporation.

 

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