When it comes to old boys' clubs, investment banks are far from the worst. But it may be time to launch a brown shoe revolution

Emma Haslett
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Street Style - Day 2 - Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Istanbul Fall/Winter 2015
Brown shoes: Bad for your career, but great with mustard laces... (Source: Getty)

Footwear is not traditionally a City issue, but in recent months it has become something of a sticking point.

First, there was high heels-gate, in which a PwC receptionist was sent home for refusing to wear a heel (PwC has since pointed out, quite reasonably, it had no quarrel with the height of the receptionist’s shoes - it was the temping agency which sent her home).

Read more: The perils of unconscious bias at work

Yesterday it was the turn of men’s shoes - specifically, brown ones - after a government report found those sporting a tan loafer (and, indeed, “loud ties”) are discriminated against by hiring managers at investment banks.

The subtext of the report was clear: men wearing brown shoes don’t have the “polish” (for which read: “private school education”) required of a client-facing role in investment banking. “What kind of industry is this where I can be told that I’m a good candidate, I’m sharp, but I’m not polished enough?” complained one applicant.

It is easy for banker-bashers to accuse financial institutions of being an old boys’ club - but the sector is far from the worst for social mobility. A report published by the Sutton Trust and the Boston Consulting Group in 2014 found although private school graduates make up 37 per cent of recruits in financial services, that was way below medicine, where 51 per cent attended independent schools, and journalists, where 54 per cent went to private school.

Meanwhile, City institutions as diverse (ahem) as Royal Bank of Canada, PwC and Accenture have introduced measures to counter unconscious bias, the concept we tend to subconsciously select candidates who are like us. “We have a responsibility to tackle the complex challenges that create barriers, limit creativity and blind us to the possibilities of our talent and our organisations,” RBC chief executive Gordon Nixon has said.

One thing which doesn’t necessarily help the image of the sector is needlessly finicky dress codes. UBS’ 2010 “style guide”, which offered advice on the length of socks and the wearing of wristwatches, was so badly ridiculed the bank was forced to scale it back. Naturally, the document required men to wear “black shoes with leather soles”, while “non-laced shoes with buckles or coarse decorations should be avoided”. Time for bankers to launch a brown shoe revolution?

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