• Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Tattoos & Taboos: does it hinder job opportunities?

ByEmma Landsburgh

Dec 6, 2020

Tattoos, along with most kinds of body modification, have always been faced with judgement, particularly in westernised society. Tattoos have always been a significant part in historical cultural variations dating back thousands of years, yet they have been seen as a way to define the type of person and worker you are. Oftentimes, these judgements have hindered people from gaining job roles they are blatantly qualified for. But, could times be changing? 

The popularity of tattoos has grown exponentially; whilst there are no definitive statistics, increasing amounts of people seem to be looking to get some ink done. Tattoos are embedded in our mainstream, with celebrities getting new tattoos daily including Rihanna, Cara Delavigne, Bieber, and Ed Sheeran (to name a few!). Social media is filled with people sharing their experiences getting them or showing off the amazing artwork tattoo artists are capable of. It has moved from being a subculture to part of our popular culture and is fairly easy now to find a tattoo parlour any which way you look. Back in 2015, it was found that one in five British adults had tattoos and like any other trend, it’s bound to move in and out of popularity, as tattoos have done for centuries. 

Tattoos have often been aligned with prejudice and judgement. Oftentimes, people are very quick to judge when they see a tattoo, aligning them with criminality, drugs, and most other negative stereotypes. For some, it can have negative religious implications, especially in Christianity, and in Japan, they’ve gone as far as to ban tattoos entirely. Due to these stereotypes, people feel they can judge someone’s own character before even meeting them properly. Many times, tattoos are linked to personal traits of being “irresponsible”, “rebellious”, and “unprofessional”. So it begs the question of, are we trying to move away from these ideas, or are they still set in the mindset of employers? 

A few years ago, a study by the University of Miami Business School and the University of Western Australia Business School found that the judgment around tattoos has changed so much in recent years that they are no longer linked to individual employment and wage discrimination. Whilst this study only focused on men, it offers a glimmer of hope that times could be changing as employers become more accepting. 

Employees can however still be fired for having tattoos, and it can still hinder them in an interview, facing further obstacles in what is an already difficult job market. Hair colour and piercings can also affect how an interview goes, but this is dependent upon the employer. Many jobs have a “no visible ink” policy embedded in the uniform, which can also include rules around piercings and dyed hair. These kinds of rules subconsciously encourage discrimination in the workplace, simply for artwork on someone’s body that can hold personal or cultural significance. Of course, these situations always depend on the workplace and other factors; where is the tattoo on the body, where you work, and who is the demographic, for example.

Only last year did Air New Zealand end a ban on employees having tattoos, as beforehand, people with tattoos were ineligible to even apply and this shows an active effort to battle the prejudice against tattoos in the workplace. This move has huge significance, especially in New Zealand, where tattoos play a role in their culture; ‘Ta Moko’ is traditionally practised by the permanent marking of the face and body by the Maori, who are indigenous to New Zealand. This practice is culturally sacred so, to be discriminated against for tattoos in the workplace can be a far bigger issue than it first seems. Not only in the case of Maori people was it discrimination against tattoos, but before it was corrected, it was direct discrimination against a cohort of people. 

Therefore, the stereotyping of tattoos in the workplace opens up an avenue for a large amount of prejudice. It allows people to be instantly judged rather than taking the time and considering someone’s work ethic. As well as this, it begs the question of why there must be a sense of uniformity when it comes to work. Why does one need to look a certain way for a job that only takes up part of their life? Judging and discriminating against someone for their tattoos, piercings or whatever kind of body modification is a breach of privacy. Why does there need to be a specific idea of what a “hardworking” office worker looks like? It seems like these are embedded in the old-fashioned ideas spurred on by generations before us. 

The workplace needs to become more accepting, focusing purely on the person’s ability to be a sound employee, rather than their ‘image’. It’s archaic and discriminatory to focus on how someone looks and judge them based solely on that. Workplace interviews already have problems with discriminatory actions, so it needs to begin developing itself and move away from stereotypical judgments and there is still a while yet to go to see this change in attitude across the board.

Image: Maxim Hopman via Unsplash.