Nearly half of young job applicants with disfigurement felt rejected because of appearance, study reveals

Phoebe Southworth
Phil Gorf, 52, has had some upsetting experiences during job interviews - Jeff Gilbert/Jeff Gilbert

Almost half of young job applicants with a disfigurement say they were rejected because of how they looked, The Telegraph can reveal, as a leading charity demands tougher equality laws.

Changing Faces, which supports people who have a mark, scar or condition which alters their appearance, has found that more than a third of people (36 per cent) with a visible difference say they have been discriminated against in job applications, rising to 45 per cent among 18 to 34 year olds.

Meanwhile 34 per cent believe their employers have not been effective in preventing discrimination against them in the workplace.

The Equality Act 2010 aims to combat inequality across various sectors including in employment and the recruitment process, and considers 'severe disfigurement' within its disability protections.

But Changing Faces says it does not take into account the "significant discrimination" affecting people with all kinds of disfigurements.

The charity's report also shows that: 

  • 25 per cent have been stared at during work
  • 19 per cent have received negative comments
  • 10 per cent have been ignored by colleagues
  • 12 per cent have had difficulty making friends
  • 1 in 12 have been given tasks below their pay grade
  • 1 in 15 have been passed over for promotion/wage increases

Becky Hewitt, CEO of Changing Faces, told The Telegraph: “People with a visible difference deserve to live the life they want, but are still facing multiple challenges. They are vulnerable to isolation, loneliness, social anxiety and low self-esteem. They face staring, harassment, bullying and hate crime.

“We need to act now to challenge stigma and prejudice, including in the workplace. The findings in our report show there’s still much to be done to increase awareness and education amongst employers. We want to work with more businesses and help them create the right training for their teams.”

She added: “Our concern with the Equality Act is that the definition ‘severe disfigurement’ is unclear and does not take into account the significant discrimination our research shows takes place against many people with a wide range of visible differences.

"The ‘severity' of disfigurement does not determine whether, or the extent to which, someone might be discriminated against and to what extent it is psychologically or socially distressing.

"Our experience is that there is still low awareness and understanding of the employment challenges faced by people with a wide range of disfigurements among employers, which means they persist and are often overlooked or dismissed. 

"This is why the need for greater recognition and better training is so pressing if people with visible differences are to be treated fairly.”

At least 1.3 million people in the UK have significant disfigurements, including 569,000 with facial disfigurements.

Phil Gorf, 52, from Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, has been working in logistics at DHL for 20 years, but previously had very upsetting experiences with employers.

He said: “I once had an interview with a water company and the man interviewing me said ‘I’ve noticed your face - is that anything that can get in the water?’

"I explained that it was just a birthmark. Unsurprisingly I didn’t get the job.

“Then I had an interview at a company that fitted satellite dishes and TV aerials, where the man said ‘I can’t employ you. I couldn’t send you out to a customer with a face like that’. I found that really upsetting.”

Changing Faces at The Telegraph's Christmas charity appeal Credit: Paul Grover/Paul Grover

Julie, 35, who has suffered from alopecia since the age of 14, said she missed out on many opportunities because of her appearance.

"Losing my hair damaged my self-esteem to such a degree that I lost a huge amount of my confident, unstoppable personality," she said.

"I didn’t want to stand out, I worked very hard to blend in and not be noticed. That’s really career limiting. By the time I realised I was doing this, I had missed so many opportunities career wise.

"I spent far too much of every day worrying about hiding patches of hair to be able to fully engage with what I was doing.

"Alopecia shaped my life in a lot of ways. For a long time, I didn’t really deal with how much it was affecting me - it damaged my self esteem in a big way and it’s only now with hindsight that I can see that that affected every part of my life from career choices to relationships with friends and family."

Shankar, 25, who has the skin condition vitiligo, added: “Employers should not judge your capability for a job based on your looks. And, if anything, diversity should be celebrated more in the work place, as we can all bring our backgrounds and unique qualities to create a strong team.”

Changing Faces is teaming up with beauty giant Avon as part of their charity's mission to get 20 brands to commit to having people with visible differences in their campaigns.

Kate Donovan, executive director of communications and causes for Avon UK, said: “We are proud to partner with Changing Faces and support their mission to challenge the perception of and end discrimination towards people who have a visible difference.

"In addition to signing up to #PledgeToBeSeen and featuring more people with visible differences across our beauty campaigns, we are also working closely with Changing Faces to equip our network of Representatives and employees across the UK with the guidance and resources needed to understand and support those with visible differences."

The announcement by Changing Faces comes ahead of their Face Equality Day on May 22, which is the UK’s only campaign to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equally whatever the appearance of their face or body.

A host of events will be held across the country starting on May 20.

Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson said: “Discriminating against somebody because of the way they look should have absolutely no place in our society. 

“To tackle discrimination we must first improve representation of people with visible differences in every area of public life, whether that’s on our TV screens or in the workplace. That’s exactly why Changing Faces’ work is so important.

“Employers must recognise their unconscious biases when it comes to visible difference. Not only do they risk breaking the law, they also risk missing out on the valuable skills these people have to offer.”