Ella smiling, looking off camera

Visible difference and embedding diversity in the workplace

Guidance for employers on developing an inclusive environment for people with a visible difference, so everyone benefits from workplace diversity.

People with a visible difference or disfigurement face unique challenges in the workplace. As an employer, you can help develop an inclusive environment that is welcoming to all and where the whole team benefits from diversity in the workplace.

People who have different life experiences bring a huge amount of experience and knowledge to an organisation. With the right workplace culture, they will help your organisation thrive.

Yet one in ten people with a visible difference say they have been ignored by colleagues (10%) and have difficulty making friends at work (12%).

Try a few of these measures to make your organisation a place where talent flourishes and diversity is welcomed.

A third of those who have a job say that their employers have not been effective in preventing discrimination against them in the workplace

Recruit a diverse workforce

Diversity in the workplace starts with your recruitment and hiring practices. To learn more about this, visit our page for recruitment managers and HR professionals. This resource gives you hints and tips on how to encourage people with a visible difference to apply for roles and suggestions on overcoming the surprise you may feel on meeting someone with a visible difference.

Tackle unconscious bias

Everyone you employ and work with – as well as your customers – is different. The best teams are made up of people from a wide variety of backgrounds who come together to solve problems, meet goals and achieve targets. Just as you value your own uniqueness, value the uniqueness of your team members.

Although we may acknowledge that difference is a good thing, we sometimes make assumptions about people because they are not the same as us. One reason we might do this is because of how they look. According to our research:

  • one in five (19%) people with a visible difference has felt uncomfortable around colleagues or received negative comments
  • one in four has been stared at in the workplace.

A quarter of people have been stared at in the workplace because of their visible difference

Treating people differently because of their appearance can take many forms. As managers, we might leave someone off a project they would really enjoy or decide not to give someone with a visible difference a customer-facing role because we assume they won’t want one. Often we are not even aware we are doing this. This is called unconscious bias. Unconscious bias can limit the benefits of diversity in the workplace and make people feel left out or discriminated against.

Training is recommended for every workplace to help you and your staff become aware of the way unconscious bias works so you can stop it from happening. You could arrange an unconscious bias workshop or training session. To help you get started, view our unconscious bias page.

Encourage active participation

Some employees with a visible difference may feel marginalised and take the back seat in meetings and on projects. Managers should work to identify hesitant contributors and find ways to encourage them to contribute. Think about meetings and ask, “Who is invited? Who gets to speak and how often? Am I leaving out anyone whose input would be valuable?”

Remember that you chose your employees for their talent, skills and knowledge. Create an environment where those attributes can flourish so everyone can benefit from diversity in the workplace. To do this, look for opportunities where you can enable employees to work to the best of their ability.

Employers should not judge your capability for a job based on your looks. And, if anything, diversity should be celebrated more in the workplace, as we can all bring our backgrounds and unique qualities to create a strong team.

Shankar, 25, vitiligo

Is there a different way of working that can encourage everyone to contribute?

Being the centre of attention can be difficult for people who look different. Instead of putting people on the spot, a more inclusive approach could be to invite people to submit written contributions in advance, then acknowledging this input during the meeting.

Working from home and video calls are increasingly becoming the norm

Does your organisation insist that everyone has their camera on? This can be challenging for people with visible difference. Instead, encourage people to turn their camera on or off when it suits them. We would all prefer to have the camera off at times and other participants should be supportive of this policy.

Lead by example

An honest review of your own leadership habits can throw up things you want to change and things you need to do more often. Ask questions such as:

  • Do you give the most interesting projects to people who are like you, rather than the best candidate?
  • Do you rely on a small group of colleagues to give you feedback or input?
  • Do you seek out people who aren’t like you to have a cup of tea or a chat with?

As you find areas of improvement, make it your mission to change. By leading by example, you can change the culture of your organisation.

Five things you can do to create an inclusive workplace

Two-thirds of people think visible differences aren't well represented in adverts

  1. Use images of people with a visible difference in your advertising and corporate communications.
  2. Seek out someone you don’t normally associate with for a chat. They don’t need to have a visible difference but it’s a good habit to cultivate.
  3. Don’t include requirements such as “must be well presented” in job adverts as this can mean that people with a visible difference deselect themselves from the process.
  4. Don’t make assumptions about people – ask open questions and listen carefully to the answers.
  5. Encourage your organisation to sign up to our Pledge To Be Seen campaign.

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