An e-petition calling for a change to the law that allows companies to require women to wear high heels at work recently sparked an inquiry by the Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee.
Nicola Thorp, who was employed as a temp by PwC’s outsourced reception firm Portico, created the petition after she was sent home when she refused to source a pair of two to four inch heels after arriving at work wearing flat shoes.
PwC swiftly pointed out that both the receptionist and supervisor in question were employees of Portico, rather than PwC, which does not have specific dress guidelines for employees based on gender.
Portico later announced it was revising its guidelines to make it clear that female employees could wear plain flat shoes "as they prefer".
Gaenor Bagley, UK head of people at PwC
We trust our people to use their judgement on what’s appropriate to wear
PwC Australia later ditched its obligatory “modern professional” dress code of suits for men and tailored dresses for women in favour of allowing staff members to make their own judgement about what is appropriate for the workplace.
“It’s not a 'dress up' or 'dress down' policy - all we are asking our people to do is think about what they are doing each day, who they are doing it with, and dress in a way that reflects that,” said Sue Horlin, PwC Australia's incoming human capital leader.
“We trust our people to use their judgement and common sense, and we firmly believe this small but symbolic gesture will help people be more comfortable, more confident and therefore deliver fantastic service to our clients,” she added.
Gaenor Bagley, UK head of people at PwC added that this has been the firm’s position in the UK for some years now.
“We’ve had a flexible approach to how our people dress for work in the UK for a number of years – it’s important that our people can be themselves at work and that we respect our clients and colleagues. We trust our people to use their judgement on what’s appropriate to wear.”
And it turns out a lot of accountancy firms have adopted similar flexible approaches to their company dress codes.
A spokesperson for EY said the firm provides guidelines about the standard of attire that people, who represent the firm, should adhere to.
“Our people are able to wear formal or business casual, depending on their professional working arrangements. For example, when at a client's site we ask that our people match the dress code of the client.
“EY is committed to creating an inclusive culture where our people are able to be themselves at work. We have worked with a number of our employee networks to reflect these values in our dress code and to ensure that our policies are gender neutral,” they added.
Deloitte has a comparable policy. A spokesperson for the Big Four firm said, “At Deloitte we trust our people to wear what is appropriate for the environment in which they are working.”
KPMG echoed this, saying the firm expects employees to dress in a way that is appropriate in a professional work environment.
A spokesperson for the firm added “the way people dress at KPMG should reflect a professional financial services firm”.
“The firm asks employees to consider whether or not they will be in contact with clients on a particular day and asks employees to dress accordingly, taking into account the client’s own dress code.”
They added KPMG is quite flexible and that dress codes vary across departments and can depend on client contact and is very inclusive of religious and cultural traditions.
The Big Four aren’t the only firms updating their dress codes to place more trust in the judgment of their employees.
Mark Sherfield, COO at BDO
It’s important people are encouraged to be themselves in the workplace, and not be restricted for the sake of red tape
Grant Thornton said, "Our guiding principle is to 'dress for your diary, dress for the brand'. Whilst this recognises that we don't always need to be in a formal 'suit and tie', it acknowledges that our people are professional adults who can make the choices appropriate to their day."
BDO’s dress and appearance policy states, “We expect all our people to use their judgement in determining what clothing is appropriate to wear to work. For example, individuals should remember who their clients are, whether internal or external, and the professional image they wish to convey.
"As such, all dress should be suitable to meet a new client and/or attend an unexpected meeting if necessary, and not look out of place with others in that meeting who may be wearing suits.”
Unlike PwC, BDO’s policy applies to its entire group, including contractors, agency workers and any other temporary workers.
Mark Sherfield, COO at BDO, added, “I’m pretty sure most firms will have a dress code policy in place but, in reality and after 17 years at BDO, I can count on one hand how many times it has been referred to.
“It’s important people are encouraged to be themselves in the workplace, and not be restricted for the sake of red tape. We recruit professional and intelligent people; they know what is appropriate and what isn’t, and the professional image they want to portray."
Wilkins Kennedy also said it trusts its staff to dress appropriately for their environment. “We try not to be overly prescriptive, so our staff handbook simply states that staff are “expected to dress appropriately for a professional office”.
"However, if people do not have client meetings, there is also some relaxation of the dress code regarding ties and dress-down days," a spokesperson said.
While at Smith & Williamson the dress code policy asks for “dress and appearance to be of a business-like standard.”
Similarly at Saffery Champness, staff are expected to adhere to a professional dress code.
Julia Paulding, head of HR at Saffery Champness said, “The dress code at Saffery Champness is ‘smart business attire appropriate for a professional office environment’, and this includes ties for men.
“We ask our partners and staff to maintain high standards of personal appearance whilst in the office and when representing Saffery Champness externally too.
“We ask them to consider the expectations of clients and external contacts, as well as work colleagues, and the policy applies to everyone, regardless of whether or not their role brings them into direct contact with clients or external contacts on a regular basis," added Paulding.