Face Equality Day – and its challenge to employers

By James Partridge OBE, Chief Executive, Changing Faces

On 26 May 2017 Changing Faces held the UK’s first Face Equality Day. People across the country wore the unique butterfly that is Changing Faces logo on their faces and bodies – and many companies pledged their support to promote face equality in their organisations.

And David Isaac, the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “At the Commission we are working to deliver a fairer Britain for everyone and we wholeheartedly support both Changing Faces and their Face Equality campaign.”

Why a Face Equality Day?

Because over the last 25 years, Changing Faces has received far too many anecdotal

reports – borne out by research – that people with disfigurements to their face or body are seriously disadvantaged in British society. Which is why we lobbied for them to be protected under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 – successfully thanks in large part to the Employer’s Forum on Disability (as Business Disability Forum was then).

Joanna Corbin webversion

In 2008, we launched the campaign for face equality with additional information from an Implicit Attitudes Test (IAT). This showed very substantial unconscious bias: nine out of 10 members of the public found it very difficult to associate positive characteristics to someone with an unusual-looking face, believing them less likely to be successful or happy, and less fun to be with.

Since 2008, we have endeavoured to raise awareness of the prejudice and discrimination associated with disfigurement – through poster campaigns, work in schools and with many employers, initiatives such as my reading the news on Channel 5 and a film starring Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary in Downton Abbey) pointing up the lazy use of scarring by Hollywood and other film directors (https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/campaigns/face-equality/face-equality-film).

We have made some progress in shifting public attitudes. The number of people showing bias is now down to seven out of ten according to the latest IAT study (http://www.changingfaces.org.uk/fetest).

But there is far to go. Just how far is now clear because, on Face Equality Day, Changing Faces published a shocking report, Disfigurement in the UK.

This shows that British society presents a vastly unequal playing field for people with disfigurements in almost every aspect of life which leads them to have lower aspirations and expectations, and where they are resigned to the inevitability of staring, abuse and injustice.

If you have a condition, mark or scar that affects your appearance (such as from a cleft lip and palate, a Bell’s palsy, scarring from an accident or burns, after cancer surgery or from psoriasis, vitiligo or rosacea) you are likely to face widespread discrimination, multiple challenges, and often abuse and harassment from other people.

The report is based on a 200-question survey completed by over 800 people and is available here: https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/campaigns/dituk

The challenge to Business Disability Forum members

I encourage – ask – all members of Business Disability Forum to read this report because we have been working with many of you and your organisations to create knowledge and confidence around disfigurement for more than 20 years.

We had hoped that, with disfigurement included in the Equality Act 2010 and other legislation, the workplace would be a place in which people who have a disfigurement would be able to contribute without prejudice and harassment. Sadly the evidence suggests this is far from the case.

Almost four-fifths (79.5%) of our respondents have avoided applying for a job because of potential reactions at interview or from new colleagues, 40.8% think their appearance hindered or prevented them from getting a job, and 55.7% think that their condition affected their lifetime ambitions for their career. One in six (16.7%) of respondents have had their condition or appearance mentioned at a job interview and, of these instances, in 82.6% of cases it was the interviewer who mentioned it.

If they did get into a new role, things don’t appear to get much better. 62.9% said that their appearance had been mentioned by work colleagues, and 26.2% – more than a quarter – have experienced discrimination from colleagues at the same rank or level of employment. Almost a fifth (17.8%) report experiencing discrimination or unfairness from their manager:

“A co-worker regularly singled me out and made comments and jokes about my skin suggesting I had spent too much time in the sun or that I must enjoy my alcohol. It was distressing and I left because of it.”

What needs to be done?

This report is a call to action for employers across Britain – and we hope BDF members will lead the way.

All employers and recruitment agencies need to be aware of their legal obligations to ensure people with disfigurements are not treated unfairly or discriminated against in the workplace. Disfigurement should be included equal opportunities policies and their monitoring. ‘Disfigurement confidence’ training should be mandated for HR teams and interviewers and all staff should receive face equality training – which Changing Faces can provide.

If you would like more information or advice, please contact Henrietta Spalding, Head of Advocacy, on henrietta.spalding@changingfaces.org.uk

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