Should I wear high heels today?
Much has been said about the plight of Nicola Thorp, the temp receptionist who was sent home from her role at PWC for wearing flat shoes rather than high heels. She has set up an online petition on the governments website, and has (at the time of writing) just exceeded the 100,000 signatures required for this matter to be considered for discussion in Parliament.
Whilst some might focus on the undoubted sexism of requiring one sex to wear high heels and not the other; employers are in fact allowed to dictate dress codes which may differ between males and females, and failure to adhere to them could indeed be disciplinary. Taking a step back from this particular incident, I have to pose the question of why employers feel the need to be so rigid with dress codes?
It reminds me of the news that broke back in 2010, when the Swiss bank UBS released a 44 page guide to its dress code, asking employees to not only button their jackets and wear long sleeved shirts; but also to schedule barber appointments every four weeks, to apply unscented lotion after showering, and to avoid eating garlic and onions. I would hope that a bank of UBS’s stature (and indeed PWC) would be attracting high calibre candidates at all levels, so surely they shouldn’t feel the need to spell out their desired intentions to this extent. Ironically, 2010 is roughly the point when the City started to shed the tie and open the top button.
This also goes against the current trends in management and leadership, which is to empower employees to decide how best they can fulfil their role. Nordstrom famously had a single piece of card handed to all employees:
Welcome to Nordstrom
We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.
Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.
Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.
It staggers me that in todays day, employers are happy to micro-manage employees in one respect, whilst paying lip service to employee engagement and empowerment. It also needs to be asked whether dress code matters? Sure, an employee should not dress in a deliberately provocative or offensive way. I’d also contend that an employee should use best judgement (to adopt Nordstrom’s phrase) in deciding the dress code that befits their role, given their company culture and level of expectation. Not every role is suitably filled with staff wearing crop tops or ripped jeans. However, if the staff member cannot decide what is right or wrong for their particular role; they are probably not right for that role.