Flop of the month: Portico's stance over high heels at work

When Nicola Thorp arrived for her first day as a temp receptionist at PwC wearing flat shoes, she probably wasn't planning to spark a debate on sexist dress-code policies that would lead to an embarrassing climbdown on the part of outsourcing firm Portico.

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

But when Thorp was told she must wear high heels to carry out her job and was asked to buy a pair, she refused and was sent home without pay. PwC said it was Portico’s dress code it was enforcing and media attention turned on the firm.

Portico initially tried to defend its high-heels policy, claiming that it was "in line with industry standard practice", but a lamentable attempt to normalise a sexist policy was just its first comms mistake.

Thorp set up an online petition asking for the Government to make it illegal to require women to wear high heels at work. In a measure of public anger the story generated, the petition garnered 140,000 signatures were in 48 hours. And what did we hear from Portico during this crucial period? Nothing.

By Thursday that week, Portico had had enough of being the public’s punchbag and rowed back in spectacular fashion, issuing a statement that women can now wear flats or heels – as they prefer. It was a victory for Thorp and feminism but, by initially attempting to justify the policy and then remaining silent, Portico will likely suffer more than sore feet in the months to come.

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