If Goldman Sachs wants to overhaul its corporate culture, it will have to do more than relax the dress code

I doubt that the sartorial element of banking is what's putting people off from entering the sector

Caitlin Morrison@citycait
Wednesday 06 March 2019 17:18
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The gender pay gap explained

In case you missed it, Goldman Sachs is modernising.

Its new chief executive is a DJ in his spare time, going by the name D-Sol. Its former chief executive set an example for business leaders everywhere with his sassy tweets on controversial subjects ranging from climate change to Brexit to Trump.

And now the bank has relaxed its dress code – tech workers were granted a more flexible wardrobe a few years ago, but that courtesy has been extended to all staff.

It’s out with the suits and ties, in with the jeans and chinos, in a marked departure for this historic investment bank.

The reaction in the press has been one of great surprise, although employees don’t seem to think it will make much difference. It’s unlikely that bankers will start turning up to meetings in tracksuits.

The bank said the decision was made because of the changing nature of the workplace, and said it hopes the new policy will make it a more welcoming environment.

No doubt the move will help make the bank look less stuffy, and maybe this will actually encourage more young people to consider a career with the company.

However, I doubt that it’s the sartorial element of banking that’s putting people off from entering the sector.

If Goldman Sachs really wants to create a more welcoming environment, it would do better to focus on dealing with its gender pay gap. Last year, the company reported a pay gap of 36.4 per cent in the UK and a bonus gap of 67.7 per cent.

That’s appalling, and the explanation that the gap stems from an imbalance in the number of women and men in senior roles is lazy and stupid – I wonder how they could possibly deal with that problem?

There’s also the somewhat punishing culture of long hours and little work-life balance that pervades not just GS, but the City in general.

People are beginning to turn away from the work hard/play hard lifestyle portrayed in films like Wolf of Wall Street – research shows millennials value companies’ ethics, flexible hours and even office spaces above salaries.

Working in jeans and a hoodie might be more comfortable than working in a suit, but after 10 hours at a desk, it probably feels about the same.

Having said that, dress codes can make a huge difference to a company, its employees, and its reputation.

PwC learned that the hard way when it sent a woman home without pay after she refused to wear heels for her receptionist role.

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That controversial decision exposed just how antiquated some companies’ attitudes are when it comes to gender equality, and opened up a debate around what people can and cannot be made to wear for work.

However, it didn’t quite spark the revolution many had hoped for. Just this week, Virgin Atlantic announced it was getting rid of its requirement that female cabin crew must wear makeup. That’s great news for Virgin staff, but it’s kind of shocking that it took this long for the company to give its female employees full control over their own faces.

So while it’s important that companies are encouraged to modernise their clothing policies, we need to stop short of applauding businesses for doing away with pointless, old-fashioned and/or sexist rules.

Goldman Sachs was never seen as a particularly bad offender when it comes to rules around apparel, but its decision to change the dress code is a positive sign. It shows that the bank is looking at ways to make things easier for employees and is willing to respond to changing attitudes.

Here’s hoping these qualities can be put to further use in making the banking sector a fairer, more modern industry in general.

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