Ending Disfigurement Prejudice in the Workplace

Ending Disfigurement Prejudice in the Workplace

Published for Employability Day, Friday 14th July 2017

At Changing Faces we hear all too often that people with disfigurements are treated unfairly and unequally in the workplace. There are over 1.3 million people in the UK with a mark, scar or condition that affects their appearance such as a birthmark, a scar, a skin condition, or a congenital syndrome that affects the shape of the head and features, and over half a million have a facial disfigurement. That’s about one in every hundred working-age people.

In our ground-breaking report we published recently on the everyday lives of people who have a disfigurement, Disfigurement in the UK, people were found to have lower aspirations and expectations, be under or unemployed and likely to be resigning themselves to the inevitability of bullying, abuse and injustice. The headlines in the workplace are:

  • Four-fifths have avoided applying for a job because they thought their appearance would hinder them at interview, or because new colleagues would make them uncomfortable
  • More than half think their condition hindered their career in some way, and 17% had left a job – or felt forced to leave – because of reactions to their appearance

Our results show that too many individuals screen themselves out of opportunities throughout their careers because of concerns that their appearance will hinder them at interview or promotion and how they will be treated at work. We know too, through many years of working with employers, that they can be uncertain and uncomfortable about how to handle disfigurement, being fearful of saying the wrong thing, or unwittingly discounting a candidate’s skills at interview or treating someone unfairly.

It’s challenging enough coming to terms with an accident or illness, but often the hardest thing of all is coping with other people’s reactions. Changing Faces commissioned a study which found that 66% of people associate negative attributes to someone who has a disfigurement. This implicit bias transcends even into the most conscientiously minded employer or colleague. Research shows that being passed over for promotion, or assumptions being made about ability and intellectual capacity are commonplace for someone who looks distinctive. A person with an unusual appearance is sometimes considered to be less attractive, less likely to succeed in life, and less easy to work with.

In the workplace, this can mean having fewer job opportunities, being bypassed for promotion or certain roles, being patronised, avoided, bullied or treated with suspicion.

These are shocking statistics, but we believe that attitudes can be changed and people with a distinctive appearance can enjoy successful careers. I very much hope that this Employability Day will give individuals the hope and aspiration to succeed in their careers, and employers will develop their confidence in recruiting, employing and promoting people with an unusual appearance.

At Changing Faces, our purpose is to enable people with disfigurements to live the lives they want. That means striving for Face Equality in an enlightened society which fully accepts everyone regardless of their appearance. Face Equality at work begins with recruitment. We’ve produced guidance for both jobseekers and employers to help the recruitment process go as smoothly as possible.

Even with a commitment to diversity, many interviewers are fearful of asking the wrong thing, using inappropriate words, or are simply nervous and uncomfortable around disfigurement. Our guidance can help with this.

If you’re looking for work, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by preparing yourself well, taking appropriate steps to prepare your interviewer and being as confident as possible. Check out our guidance for tips on how to do this. 

“I worked very hard to prove myself. Going for an interview, it always crossed my mind, ‘what if they turn me down because of my looks,’ which made me feel nervous. Once I had a bad experience where after only 10 minutes, the interviewer ended the meeting and left. It could have had something to do with the way I look.”

“But it’s important not to presume someone is turning you down because of your looks. And it’s equally important that employers do not judge candidates based on their face. Abiding by a principle of equality is essential.” Comment from a young woman with scarring from burns

The law provides protection for interviewees and employees with ‘severe disfigurements’ under the Equality Act 2010and all employers should be aware of their legal obligations to ensure people with disfigurements are not treated unfairly or discriminated against. They could include disfigurement in their equal opportunities monitoring forms to ensure that their workforce is appropriately diverse. Employers could provide ‘disfigurement confidence’ training to ensure their staff are informed and confident so that individuals don’t get overlooked for promotion and other opportunities. Staff should receive face equality training to ensure that they do not treat colleagues or clients with appearance bias and discrimination.

Henrietta Spalding, Head of Advocacy
henrietta.spalding@changingfaces.org.uk

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