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Disfigurement no longer a barrier to interview success

contentimage_image842Employers and jobseekers are being given a helping hand to handle the sensitive issue of disfigurement in new guidance published today.

Changing Faces, the national charity that supports people living with a scar, mark or condition that affects their appearance, has developed guides for employers and jobseekers to overcome barriers that people with disfigurements say hold them back from employment.

Sally Mbewe, a business psychologist who works as the charity’s Face Equality at Work Advisor, said:

With almost one in every hundred people of working age having an unusual facial appearance, many fear that reactions from employers will be jeopardising their chances. At the same time, many interviewers are fearful of asking the wrong thing, using inappropriate words or being accused of discrimination. These fears mean that many talented and capable individuals are left out of the job market, and employers are losing out on potentially high quality candidates.

The charity’s guide for jobseekers explains how to deal constructively with the application process, and the rise in popularity of the ‘visumé’, a video application, increasingly common in the creative industries. It also gives advice on how to confidently approach interviewers who are distracted or confused by the jobseeker’s appearance. For recruiters and interviewers, the guide provides advice on what they are allowed to ask, how to avoid being distracted by a candidate’s appearance and focus on what they are saying.

Both guides work through similar concerns but from different perspectives, and are designed to complement each other. The overall aim is to make everyone involved in the interview feel confident and at ease, and secure in the knowledge that the process will be fair.

The Equality Act 2010 includes ‘severe disfigurement’ as a protected characteristic, making discrimination illegal. But Lucy Wilson, 20, a journalism student at Sheffield Hallam University, experienced rejection when she applied for a part-time job in a high street food retailer.

The interview went well, but I saw them glancing at my hands a few times. Telling them that I engage in sports, and other handiwork, I presumed that they knew that I was well enabled. After a week of hearing nothing, my mum actually went into the shop to see if they had chosen someone for the job. They said they hadn’t because they wanted to pick me, but weren’t sure whether to take me on due to the appearance of my hands.

Lucy says that guidance would have helped. “The new guides from Changing Faces would have given me the confidence to talk about my hands and deal with their concerns there and then.”

Lucy’s experience is not uncommon according to Changing Faces, which runs the ‘What Success Looks Like’ campaign to raise awareness of good practice in the workplace, and highlight career success stories of people with a facial difference. More than half a million people in the UK have a facial disfigurement, but research by the charity found that 43% of their clients said that they had not applied for a job because they believed their face wouldn’t fit, and 46% had experienced being treated differently by an interviewer.

Ms Mbewe said:

By demonstrating what success can and does look like in the workplace we can start to replace the fear of rejection, of causing offence and of being accused of discrimination, with confident dialogue, open-mindedness and fair decision-making.

Caroline Rawes, head of resourcing at law firm Taylor Wessing, where the guidance is being launched at an event for leading recruiters this morning, said:

The new guides for employers and jobseekers from Changing Faces enable every employer to provide a fair and equal recruitment process when an applicant or candidate has a scar, mark or condition which affects their appearance. The detailed information in each guide gives clarity, provides useful guidance and allows for open and flexible communication, and I hope that Taylor Wessing will be the first of many firms who’ll adopt the guidelines in the coming weeks.

Click here to access the guidance.

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