A guest blog from our friends at Changing Faces, who help people who have a disfigurement find a way to live the life they want.
There are over 1.3 million people in the UK with a mark, scar or condition that affects their appearance, and over half a million have a facial disfigurement. That’s about one in a hundred working-age people.
Looking distinctive shouldn’t affect a person’s job prospects but we know that it does. Changing Faces conducted a survey in which 60% of unemployed respondents said they believed their appearance was the main reason they were out of work, whilst 50% felt colleagues treated them differently because of the way they looked and 30% experienced outright hostility and bullying.
These are shocking statistics, but we believe that attitudes can be changed and people with a distinctive appearance can enjoy successful careers.
What is disfigurement?
A disfigurement is a mark, scar or condition that affects the way a person looks. It could be a birthmark, a scar, a skin condition, or a congenital syndrome that affects the shape of the head and features. It could affect the face, hands or any part of the body.
Some people are born with their condition, while others acquire them through illness (such as facial cancer and its treatment), accidents, fires, skin conditions, violence or warfare.
What are people’s attitudes towards disfigurement?
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 90% of people make unconscious judgements about people with an unusual appearance. They consider them 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.
Guidance for achieving Face Equality at work
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 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.
What success looks like
Kellie is a burns survivor, having been in a car accident when she was two years old. Now in her twenties, she worked for a while as a freelance television researcher.
“I love stories and I’ve always been very interested in storytelling, so that’s how I ended up in media. It’s very competitive, and you’re only as good as your last production. Working in TV is very much about being recommended by people. There are no second chances. Personally, I felt my disfigurement wasn’t a barrier to finding jobs. But just like any graduate I had to do a lot of free internships to get a foot in the door.”
“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 not judge candidates based on their face. Abiding by a principle of equality is essential.”
Despite the challenges, there are many stories like Kellie’s which prove that disfigurement needn’t be a barrier to success.
The legal position
Under the Equality Act 2010, ‘severe’ disfigurement is classed as a disability which makes it a protected characteristic. Many people with a disfigurement don’t identify as ‘disabled’ but that doesn’t limit their protection under the law – and employers must be aware of the need to protect people with disfigurements from discrimination.
See here to bust some of the myths around facial disfigurement.
Find out more
Changing Faces offers detailed information, training and guidance on dealing with disfigurement from an employment and customer-service perspective. We also offer support and guidance to those living with disfigurement. Please visit our website to find out more.
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