Campaign hopes to break facial disfigurement boundaries


newslatestBy Charlotte Wingfield

A new campaign aims to change the workplace from a “hostile” environment to one that is far more welcoming to people with facial disfigurements.

The charity Changing Faces says discrimination is still “rife”, so there is a need for more role models – people with an unusual appearance who are succeeding in their careers.

James Partridge, founder and chief executive of Changing Faces, told Disability News Service that the Equality Act was failing to protect people from discrimination in the workplace.

Last year, a study by Dr Anna Stone from the University of East London concluded that people with facial disfigurements faced recruitment discrimination in jobs that involved a larger degree of customer contact.

Partridge said the charity was hearing some “really nasty stories… It’s not all going to be sweetness and light and success and niceness. There’s going to be some nastiness in there but we need to root that out so that we can change it.

“We are trying to do something which is extraordinary difficult, we think, and that is to change the culture in the workplace.”

One of the business leaders interviewed at the campaign launch was Bill Cooper, who has a facial disfigurement and is a managing director for Lloyds Banking Group.

He said: “The most important thing is building confidence so people with disfigurements can be confident when they go into interviews and in their careers.”

He added: “Somehow you find the confidence to take a step forward, because in my experience other people will then be more accepting.”

He said that “being a bit unusual looking” had actually been a “business advantage” for him at conferences and other events because people tended not to forget his name.

Henrietta Spalding, head of advocacy at Changing Faces, told guests at the launch event: “I’m here this evening to ensure that we communicate to people the real challenges that people with disfigurements face in the workplace – the prejudices, the unwitting judgements and assertions that people make about potential employees based on how they look – without factoring in the skills, the competences, the experiences that they potentially have to offer to an organisation.”

As part of the What Success Looks Like campaign, Changing Faces has issued new draft guidance for both employers and individuals.

It hopes this guidance will replace the “fear of rejection, of causing offence and of being accused of discrimination” with “confident dialogue, open-mindedness and fair decision-making”.

Michal Husain, one of BBC Radio 4’s presenters on its Today programme, helped launch the campaign at The Mall Galleries in London last week.

She said the campaign was about taking positive and practical steps towards equality in the workplace.

She said: “We can all relate to the desire to be seen for what we really are and for people to look beyond what their first impressions of us might be, and to view us purely on the basis of ability and potential.”

The charity is now looking for successful people with facial disfigurements to share their stories of how they have succeeded in the workplace.

21 May 2014