Every now and again, there is an event that sways the public opinion about certain commonly held beliefs.
Last December, a temporary receptionist, Nicola Thorp was contracted by PWC’s outsourced reception firm Portico. Her job was mainly to escort clients to meetings in a professional manner. At first glance, she seems like a highly presentable and professional individual, but she was asked to leave on her first day. Why? Because she wasn’t wearing 2-4-inch high heels, as per the specified dress code. Last week, this came to light in the public domain, and it caused a furore.
Thorp told BBC Radio London: “I said, ‘If you can give me a reason as to why wearing flats would impair me to do my job today, then fair enough’, but they couldn’t. I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said I just won’t be able to do that in heels.”
Her petition requesting Parliament to consider this question has reached nearly 138,000 signatures, which is above the required level, and the tidal wave of support leads me to ask the question:
Is there still a place for a prescriptive dress code in corporate environments that do everything to value the individual?
However, this tradition of tie-wearing is changing, rapidly, and I wonder if the business necessity of the high heel will follow it into oblivion at some point?
Companies see a dress-code as part of their culture. Just as the school uniform gives kids in the class a common identity, historically, companies have equated our appearance with how we fit in with each other. Happily, our understanding of culture is now such that behaviour and values are prioritised above mere superficial appearances. Will this latest example of the importance of individuality finally convince companies to loosen the attire “rules” even further? In my view, the more an individual is able to express themselves at work, the more comfortable they will be, and this will naturally lead to better performance.
I personally prefer to wear a tie. It helps me to feel professional and gets me into the right frame of mind to deliver my very best for our clients. I am certainly in a minority in my office in terms of tie-wearing, but I know that people respect my preferences, just as I respect my female colleagues, who choose not to wear heels.
The death of the prescriptive dress code may well be nearer than we think.