A woman smiles as she speaks with a colleague on their tea break

What is visible difference? A guide for employers and employees

To create an inclusive workplace, you first need to understand what visible difference is and your role in reducing discrimination at work.

A good workplace is truly inclusive. That means that all people with a visible difference or disfigurement, whether employees, customers or colleagues, are accepted without exception.

Not only is this good for those with a visible difference and the culture of your workplace – research shows that it also drives better organisational and business outcomes.

The first step to inclusion of those who look different is understanding what visible difference is. On this page, we also explore how visible difference relates to the workplace and how to be inclusive of people with visible difference.

We hope this resource inspires and informs you to become true ambassadors for the inclusion of those with a visible difference.

What is visible difference?

Visible difference is a scar, mark or condition on the face or body that makes you look different. It can be acquired during your life – from an accident, disease or condition or you can be born with a condition. You can find out more information on our main page about visible difference.

Visible difference in the workplace

As an employer, you know that a diverse workforce drives better individual, business and organisational outcomes. You may have read the McKinsey report which explains that businesses with diverse employee representation are 35% more likely to outcompete their industry rivals.

Despite this, finding a job remains difficult for many people with a visible difference. Take a look at this video, in which Phil talks about two difficult interview experiences he had as a result of an employer’s reaction to his birthmark.

Our research found that over a third of people (36%) with a visible difference say they have been discriminated against in job applications because of their appearance. Two in five (40%) say that they have felt judged by potential employers and that they have not applied to certain roles because of their appearance (41%). Young adults (18-34 year olds) are particularly likely to say they have been discriminated against in job applications because of their appearance (45%).

When applying for jobs

  • 36%

    have experienced discrimination

    Over a third of people with a visible difference say they have been discriminated against.

  • 40%

    have felt judged

    Two in five people with a visible difference say they have felt judged by potential employers.

  • 45%

    of young adults have experienced discrimination

    Young adults (18-34 year olds) are particularly likely to say they have been discriminated against.

Making your workplace inclusive to people with visible difference 

I worked very hard to blend in and not be noticed. That’s really career limiting. By the time I realised I was doing this, I had missed so many opportunities career-wise. I never believed in myself enough to put myself out there and talk about what I could do. I know I’ve held myself back, underselling myself.

Julie, 35, alopecia

It isn’t enough just to say that a workplace is inclusive. The best employers understand the need to take inclusivity seriously through meaningful practical measures. Staff and customers alike need to feel supported and accepted and be given the same opportunities as everyone else.

Changing Faces wants to help employers create inclusive workplaces that are welcoming to staff and customers. With your help we can change the workplace for the better, ensuring that everyone is given the same opportunities and that your organisation is seen as a great, inclusive place to work.

Take a look at our training and guidance section for in-depth resources to help you make your workplace inclusive to people with visible difference. Our resources cover customer service, creating a diverse workplace, recruitment and unconscious bias.

View our page on recruitment to learn more about your legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

I have an employee who needs extra support. What should I do?

If an employee has told you that they need support, you have a duty of care and a legal responsibility to help them. This may include listening and acting on their concerns if they say they have been discriminated against or bullied.

  1. Ensure that your organisation has a robust complaints policy in place and supports employees through this process.
  2. If the employee needs emotional support, you could also direct them to our advice and guidance section, which is full of self-help resources designed to help people living with a visible difference.
  3. Share this selected listing of advice and guidance articles for employees.

I’m an employer and I want to support Changing Faces

That’s great! Here are some of the ways you can help. Click the links below to learn more.

Join our Pledge To Be Seen campaign

Many people with a visible difference feel that people who look different are ignored by brands. Help change that by joining Pledge To Be Seen.