Unpleasantness and discrimination does not have to be spoken or overt

At work

“Despite being a very high performer, I wasn’t able to take part in a photo shoot when the royal family visited because my image ‘didn’t fit’ with the company profile.”

“A colleague sent an email to all other colleagues and said [she] wouldn’t be in today as her facial boils have burst and taken her with them. He sent it from a shared work email so I saw it.”

“I was compared to another female colleague – a friend of mine – and we were called
‘the beauty and the beast’.”

Changing Faces has been working with employers to create knowledge and confidence around
disgurement for more than 20 years (since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 rst protected people with disfigurements after our successful lobbying). It has been the charity’s longest-running public campaign and certainly one of the most necessary, given the comments and stories received over the years.

One might hope that, with disfigurement included in the Equality Act 2010 and other changes to legislation, statutory regulations and guidance, the workplace would be a place where people who have a disfigurement can contribute without prejudice and harassment. Sadly the evidence suggests this is far from the case.

More than two-thirds (68.5%) of respondents to our survey are either employed (56.9%), self-employed (7.3%), or looking for work (4.3%), and 91.3% in total have been employed at some time in their lives.

Almost four-fifths (79.5%) have avoided applying for a job because of potential reactions at interview or from new colleagues, 40.8% think their appearance hindered or prevented them from getting a job, and 55.7% think that their condition affected their lifetime ambitions for their career. One in six (16.7%) of respondents have had their condition or appearance mentioned at a job interview and, of these instances, in 82.6% of cases it was the interviewer who mentioned it.

“I was asked if my condition could get into the water supply.”

“The interviewer said, ‘You’ll have to wear thicker tights. No-one wants to look at that’.”

“I was told the interview was cancelled with immediate effect because of my appearance. If they’d known before they wouldn’t even have invited me for interview.”

Beyond the stage of the job interview, and once into a new role, things don’t appear to get much better. 62.9% said that their appearance had been mentioned by work colleagues, and 26.2% – more than a quarter – have experienced discrimination from colleagues at the same rank or level of employment. Almost a fifth (17.8%) report experiencing discrimination or unfairness from their manager.

A co-worker regularly singled me out and made comments and jokes about my skin suggesting I had spent too much time in the sun or that I must enjoy my alcohol. It was distressing and I left because of it.

This comment was not uncommon; even after being employed, some people feel that they have to leave because of the distress caused by people’s comments. 17.1% of respondents said they had left a job voluntarily, or felt forced to leave a job, because of a reason in connection with their appearance. Such instances are devastating for the individual concerned, but also for the employer who has failed to protect its employee from discrimination. Fewer than 1 in 20 (4.5%) respondents said that an employer had ever introduced training or other support to help other colleagues deal confidently with disfigurement.

“General assumption of stupidity, less important, not as good, my opinions, thoughts and feelings aren’t respected. No direct comments about my appearance.”

“I feel like I am being treated as though I am stupid because I look di erent.”

“I think people take for granted what you are capable of doing and managing therefore not allowing you to progress in any chosen career. I think you have to work twice as hard so people can see you’re worth something.”

Unpleasantness and discrimination does not have to be spoken or overt; being passed over for promotion, or assumptions being made about ability or intellectual capacity, can show someone feel that they are being treated unfairly. As the results of the Implicit Attitudes Test (see Introduction) show, people can hold on to bias without realising it, and this can affect even the most conscientious-minded employer and colleague.

“I spoke to my manager but was told ‘It’s okay – we find it funny!’ and laughed.”

“I took early retirement [instead of complaining]. I was lucky to be in that position. Sometimes it’s better to walk away and live well.”

In almost all cases where respondents told us that they had complained about unfairness or discrimination, there was an overwhelming sense of helplessness – that it would be ‘their word against mine’, or ‘no point’ in raising a complaint. There is also a sense of resignation that such unpleasantness and discrimination is bound to take place, and so resistance becomes futile.

“I think I am about £15,000 a year lower than I could be.”

“Because I have not had the same promotion opportunities, I earn less than my peers.”

We saw earlier that more than half of respondents said they felt their condition had impacted on their career ambitions. It seems that the same can be said for salary, linked to the lack of career progression highlighted above. More than three-fifths of employed respondents (60.7%) earn at or below the national average of £26,500 per annum.

Recommendations

2a Trade and industry bodies must ensure that employers are aware of their legal obligations to ensure people with disfigurements are not treated unfairly or discriminated against in the workplace. This must include guidance on how to deal with the issue of disfigurement in the recruitment process.

2b Employers should include disfigurement in their equal opportunities monitoring forms so that they can measure equality of opportunity within their organisation, and work to ensure that their workforce is appropriately diverse. They must ensure their policies and practices are compliant with the Equality Act and Public Sector Equality Duty, where appropriate.

2c Employers should provide ‘disfigurement confidence’ training to ensure that their human resources function and all line managers feel informed, empowered and confident in dealing with applicants and colleagues who have or acquire a disfigurement, so that they don’t get overlooked for promotion and other opportunities.

2d Staff should receive face equality training to ensure that they do not treat colleagues or clients with appearance bias and discrimination.

2e Jobcentre, career services and recruitment and other employment agencies should ensure that their attitudes and biases are not in uencing job seekers and candidates in their career aspirations.

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