How PwC responded to that pair of heels

This week PwC hit the headlines after a receptionist was sent home from work after refusing to wear high heels.

PwC Today their Head of People and Executive Board Member Gaenor Bagley @gaenorbagley published a searingly honest article on the PwC blog.

In it, she shared their side of the story and how they have “learnt the hard way it is critical that the employment policies and values of our supply chain reflect our own”.

What happened?
According to the BBC, Temp worker Nicola Thorp, 27, was reportedly told she had to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in heel”.

Pwc-logoWhen she refused and complained male colleagues were not asked to do the same, she was sent home without pay.

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

The story has made global news, with many publications (rightly!) criticising the decision.

Let’s look at what Gaenor Bagley wrote. I find it refreshing. Not least because she admits the incident is embarrassing and shares her own opinions of the situation.

She writes:

Stepping up – what a pair of heels has taught us  

PwC“Equality in the workplace has come a long way since the sex discrimination act was passed in 1975, but Nicola Thorp’s petition to make it illegal for companies to require women to wear heels at work is a stark reminder about how far there is still to go.

Many people in my organisation, including myself, support the sentiments behind the petition, because any form of inequality is unacceptable and I’m sorry that any individual has had a bad experience with us.

As a business that places diversity at the heart of our organisation, the fact that the debate over high heels at work was sparked by an incident while Ms Thorp was due to work at one of our offices is embarrassing. That’s why we took immediate action with the contractor that employed Ms Thorp.

Put simply, such policies don’t reflect who we are.

We work together with our suppliers to make sure that they match our sustainability aspirations. But we have learnt the hard way that it is critical that the employment policies and values of our supply chain reflect our own. We are reviewing our suppliers’ employment policies in detail as a result.

We strongly believe that everyone should be allowed to be themselves at work and we are committed to promoting equality in the workplace.

This isn’t lip service, this underpins our values and culture.

We’ve taken bold steps to ignite change. This includes being one of the first firms to publicly report our gender pay gap, setting and publishing gender and ethnicity targets and scrapping UCAS scores as entry criteria for our graduate roles.

But all of this fades into the background if we don’t pay attention to the finer details that affect people in their daily working lives.

If we really want equality in the workplace, we need to make sure that every aspect of our business and supplier relationships have the same core values.

Ms Thorp’s experience shows how important it is to ensure we achieve this for each and every interaction. But there is no excuse for not tackling it. And we will.

What do you think? Would your organisation blog like this? I applaud Gaenor for her candour and sharing her own personal views in relation to the situation.

What I think
PetitionI’m heartened to read they are reviewing their policies and encouraged by the fact their Head of People is someone who genuinely seems to realise this issue is bigger than a pair of shoes.

But more than that, using the PwC blog to air her personal views and agreement with the petition, which currently has nearly 130,000 signatures, stands out for me.

We talk a lot in our organisations about the need to really live our values and walk the walk (in whatever shoes we wish).

Do you know what the policies are of the companies you contract to represent your organisation?

If there’s anything to learn from this whole situation, that’s one to be mindful of. Do you know? Could this have been your company?

I also spotted this via Twitter today. Love it!

The story also sparked a Twitter moment, with women around the globe Tweeting their #FawcettflatsFriday:

As ever I welcome your thoughts. You can Tweet me @allthingsIC or comment below.

Enjoyed this article? Why not share it on…


Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 13 May 2016.


  1. Sarah Lazenby says:

    Hi Rachel

    Re How PwC responded post

    Nicola Thorp is a friend of a great chum of mine and not only was I one of the thousands of people who signed her petition but I also shared her story inside the organisation I currently work with which is doing a lot for diversity and would certainly never advocate such a policy. While there are clearly really important issues in the world right now this annoyed me on so many levels. Going to bed thinking it’s 2016 and waking up to this and the realisation that in some companies it’s still very much 1975 was a topic to be shared.
    I posted it and my thoughts in our global online communities – particularly those focusing on diversity – and it was like lighting a blue touch paper. Always good to bring the outside world in methinks.

  2. Hi Sarah, lovely to hear from you, thank you for your comment. It is an issue that has resonated and provoked discussions in many organisations, which can’t be a bad thing. I agree with you and also signed the petition, not just for myself, but with my daughter in mind. I hear you re: the 1975 comment! I hope Nicola is doing well, thank you for getting in touch, Rachel.

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