National Inclusion Week is an annual campaign run by Inclusive Employers. It seeks to raise awareness of the importance of inclusion in the workplace and the business benefits to having a diverse and included workforce.
The week is a great opportunity for us to participate in the campaign for diversity in business, and work towards a society where people with disfigurements are able to reach their career potential.
Inclusion in the workplace is something that we have consistently campaigned for. The recent report, Disfigurement in the UK, highlighted that out of over 800 respondents, 79.5% have avoided applying for a job because of potential reactions at interview from new colleagues. As many as 40% think that their appearance hindered or prevented them from getting a job. On top of this, 55.7% think that their condition affected their lifetime ambitions for their career.
Fortunately, not all the experiences we hear about are negative. There are many individuals who are successful, respected and valued in the workplace, including Theresa, who has shared her experiences with us.
She says: “Getting your first job can be a scary step for anyone but when you have a visible difference it comes with added anxieties. One work place in particular, a bingo hall, a colleague asked what was ‘wrong’ with my nose and if a bird had pecked at it. I felt humiliated, belittled and internally destroyed in front of other workers. I was so upset and the supervisor said if I didn’t get back to work I had to leave. I wasn’t allowed to wait for the manager who I may have had the courage to speak to about this. I had to leave and couldn’t go back. I am still angry to this day; that was 17 years ago.
“I currently work for a survivor-led mental health organisation and the compassionate, accepting way I have been treated has nurtured me over the last 10 years and I am now a senior member of the team. I recommend empathy, acceptance as the best ways to greet a new worker with a visible difference. If they then choose to share their story, then you know you’ve built trust and shown respect.”
It’s great to see that Theresa has been able to find a truly inclusive place to work and there are some great businesses out there that provide equal opportunities to all members of staff—irrespective of appearance. One question that we often get from employers is: “People with disfigurements just don’t seem to apply for our roles. What should we be doing to attract them?”
You can make it clear in your equality statement that you go above and beyond the ‘protected characteristics’ specified in the legislation to ensure fair treatment of all candidates. Do not mention appearance in the job description or make stipulations like ‘must be well presented’.
You can also make sure your website, company brochures, advertising and recruitment packs and other external and internal communications feature images of employees who have scars, marks or conditions
You can also provide “disfigurement confidence” training to ensure that all managers staff informed, empowered and confident in dealing with applicants and colleagues who have or acquire a disfigurement. This will help ensure that people with a visible difference don’t get overlooked for promotion and are not treated differently or unfairly at work.