EY staff more likely to feel limited in their freedom to dress

22 September 2017 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read
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According to new research among 850 professionals, employees at EY are feeling more limited in their freedom to dress then their peers. Nearly half of the staff at the firm say they are restricted in their colour selection, and 37% of them say they have to wear a suit, tie and heels at all times – despite the recent effort of Big Four firms to tackle gendered employment practices.

In a new study from salary benchmarking site Emolument, the clothing policies across a selection of multinational firms has been revealed. While due to the highly selective group analysed, coupled with the relatively small sample of 850 professionals surveyed, these results should be taken with a pinch of salt, the drastic variations do likely indicate some key differences between employers more broadly. For example, when asked about their companies' dress codes, respondents showed that style-savvy Italian firms pay more attention than British companies to their employees' attire. Compared to the Italians – topping the list of fashion-conscientious regions with 42% replying they were required to wear a suit/tie/heels/jacket away from client meetings – just 17% of British employees surveyed said the same. 

Beyond national boundaries, however, the differences in presentational expectations were also highly pronounced. Within the professional services industry, Big Four consultancy EY have some of the most stringent dress codes, while the reverse is true of rival firm PwC. EY is in first place when it comes to limiting employees’ colour selections, with 45% of their employees surveyed admitting they are not entitled to choose what colour their suits, ties etc. should be. PwC meanwhile resides in fifth place, with just 9% of staff stating the same. Compounding this considerable difference, it respondents were also asked whether the colour choice was also applicable to their socks. At almost no company was there a prescription for such clothing, except for EY.

Dress to impress

While EY were shown to loosen up slightly in the event that they had no customer contact, with 36% still being required to wear shirts, ties, jackets and heels away from clients, the firm fell to second place in terms of strictness, with BNP Paribas requiring the same of 37% of staff interviewed. However, nobody listed by Emolument.com’s study unbuttons quite like PwC. The consultancy’s staff reported 0% of them had been required to be in full dress-code when away from clients. PwC recently completely abandoned formal dress code for its staff in Australia, instead endorsing “situational dressing”, where staff use their own judgement to dress in an appropriate manner.

Suited and booted

Last year, PwC inadvertently sparked media outcry, when they sent a temporary employee home from work for wearing flats instead of heels. Nicola Thorp, who was working as a receptionist at the firm in the UK, was sent home without pay for refusing to wear 2 inch to 4 inch high heels. Hired by outsource vendor Portico, she was allegedly laughed at by the company when she claimed that the demand was discriminatory; telling her to either buy the required footwear or go home.

Thorp then appealed through the media, explaining that “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. Apart from the debilitating factor, it’s the sexism issue. I think companies shouldn’t be forcing that on their female employees.” She launched a formal petition, and the matter was even discussed by the UK parliament after receiving more than 145,000 signatories.

EY and PwC have both recently been making an effort to address gender disparity within their ranks, as the pair attempt to increase their female graduate intake. In those regards, they were working to ensure transparency on a pay-gap. However, while the terms of the survey are broad in this regard, the assumption that it would be female staff alone who would be expected to wear ‘heels’ as part of a dress code, will undoubtedly raise eyebrows among some prospective employees, if this is indeed a criteria over which they would select an employer.