PwC outsourcer's flats and heels change of policy 'sensible', say senior female PRs

The case of the receptionist who was sent home for not wearing heels showed up a "silly policy" that would have no place in the world of PR, according to senior female communicators.

(Credit: Seb Oliver/Getty Images)
(Credit: Seb Oliver/Getty Images)

This week has seen widespread media coverage of Nicola Thorp, who got sent home for refusing to wear shoes with a '2-inch to 4-inch heel' when she arrived to work for accountancy firm PwC on a shift for outsourcing firm Portico, which said she had signed its appearance guidelines.

Portico yesterday said it was amending its policy to allow flat shoes after being asked to review it by PwC.

"We are making it very clear that with immediate effect, all our female colleagues can wear plain flat shoes or plain court shoes [shoes with heels] as they prefer," said Simon Pratt, MD of Portico, in a statement.

This was "a sensible decision because women are perfectly capable of doing the job of a receptionist whether they wear heels or flats", said Mary Whenman, interim comms director at Callcredit Information Group and president of the group Women in PR.

"I think it was a pretty silly policy Portico had," said another senior female figure in financial PR, speaking off the record.

Both women said they had never heard of PR employers requiring staff to wear heels and they should not do so, but dress was a matter for staff to take into careful consideration.

"People just need to use good judgement as to what is suitable for their work environment so they look professional to their colleagues and clients," Whenman said.

"In some PR firm environments you can wear trainers and in others you might need to walk into Parliament at any moment. The clients that you’re working with and the culture of your company should decide the dress code."

The anonymous financial PR figure, who has had to tell her staff not to wear flip-flops in the past, said: "It’s about dressing for the job, it’s not about rules. But some companies have to set guidelines that become rules, to help people to deliver the kind of impression they want. It’s difficult as an employer because it’s the kind of thing if you put into a company email you sound dictatorial."

She added that she felt Portico should have changed its policy to specifically stipulate closed, as opposed to open-toed, shoes, which in her experience have been required by some financial PR agencies.

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