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Ensuring fair recruitment practices for those with a facial disfigurement

Employers and jobseekers are being helped to overcome barriers to employment in new guidance published by Changing Faces, the national charity that supports people living with a scar, mark or condition that affects their appearance.

Almost one in every hundred people of working age has a facial disfigurement. A recent survey by the charity found 43% of respondents had avoided applying for a job because they believed their face wouldn’t 'fit', while 46% had experienced being treated differently by an interviewer.

Academic research by Madera and Hebl (2013) also suggests that interviewers are not only less likely to select a candidate who has a facial birthmark or scar, but are less able to remember the content of their interview responses compared with one who doesn’t.

This behaviour is not necessarily something recruitment professionals do on purpose. Aside from the few who are concerned about the impact an employee who looks different might have on their customer relationships, interviewers are often so keen not to offend that they pay more attention to regulating their own responses than to listening to what the candidate has to say.

We know that to achieve ‘face equality’ we need to break down taboos and ensure applicants with disfigurements are seen as successful contributors to the workforce. The first step is to help everyone get past their discomfort and work towards a mutual understanding and approach.

Changing Faces' guides for employers and jobseekers cover similar concerns but from different perspectives, and are designed to complement one another. The Guide for Employers advises on responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 and suggestions for improving concentration. It includes scenarios such as what to do if a candidate has disclosed a disfigurement in advance, to managing one’s surprise if they haven’t.

The Guide for Jobseekers features practical suggestions for how, when and whether to talk about their scar, mark or condition, as well as ideas for challenging inappropriate questions and overcoming an interviewer’s awkwardness.

The Equality Act 2010 protects jobseekers and employees with severe disfigurements, so potential legal implications provide a clear incentive to employers to know best practice and ensure interviewers are skilled and confident enough to provide a fair and equal interview.

Leading London law firm Taylor Wessing was the first to support the new guidance. Its HRD Caroline Rawes said: “These guides enable every employer to provide a fair and equal recruitment process when an applicant has a scar, mark or condition that affects their appearance. The detailed information gives clarity, provides useful guidance, and allows for open and flexible communication, and I hope Taylor Wessing will be the first of many firms to adopt the guidelines.”

The guides were produced as part of the charity’s ‘What Success Looks Like’ campaign to transform attitudes and confidence around the recruitment process. The campaign raises awareness of good practice and highlights career success stories of people with a facial difference.

Sally Mbewe is a business psychologist and Face Equality at Work adviser at the charity Changing Faces