“Now you’re never going to get a job!” Almost everyone in the 14% pool of tattooed Americans has heard something like this from a relative or friend. But as the number of inked Americans grows, is the traditional assumption that tattoos and jobs don’t mix really true in 2013?
Workplace tattoo policies vary among and within industries. But with many contemporary companies stressing commitments to diversity and inclusion, tattoos are becoming increasingly unproblematic across the board. Lax tattoo policies for blue-collar and art-related jobs aren’t shocking, but the increasingly tolerant outlook of frontrunners in corporate, educational and medical industries are more surprising.
As consulting firm CEO John Challenger explained, most employers today would agree that a person's appearance is nowhere near as important as his or her professional skills. “Even in this tight job market, most companies aren't going to view tattoos too harshly. Companies have a vested interest in hiring the most qualified candidate."
According to Bank of America Spokeswoman Ferris Morrison, Bank of America has no written rules or restrictions when it comes to inked corporate employees. “We have no formal policy about tattoos because we value our differences and recognize that diversity and inclusion are good for our business and make our company stronger,” she said.
This attitude is not uncommon in contemporary corporate environments. Having large, colorful and highly visible lilac tattoos inked across her upper chest didn’t stop Courtney Pecola from landing a job as vice president of Philadelphia’s ZB Sports, a sporting goods retailer, in 2004. “If I’d passed on her because of her tattoos, I’d be out one phenomenal employee,” Pecola's hirer commented.
Still, tattoo policies vary from one office to another, the contra argument being that tattoos – like unconventional hairdos or bold garments – can distract coworkers and clients. “Depending on if they are visible or offensive in nature, tattoos can have an impact on professionalism,” Mark Brenner, senior vice president of external affairs at Apollo Group said.
Tattoo policies for positions in academia differ as well, depending on the institution’s mission. Bruce Potts, professor at The University of New Mexico, sports a full tribal tattoo on his face. “I haven’t had trouble getting a job because success is all about how one presents him or herself, and doesn’t solely depend on appearance,” he explained.
But UNM’s acceptance of Potts’ atypical appearance is not necessarily representative of all employers. Especially when it comes to younger children, institutions and camps are more concerned with the message that a leader’s appearance may be sending. John Beitner, director of L.A.’s Tumbleweed Day Camp, felt pressure from parents to employ more “appropriate looking role models” after his camp saw a 15% increase in tattooed counselors over the past decade. Beitner decided to tackle the issue on a case-by-case basis, evaluating levels of offensiveness for individual tattoos. He commented that a no-tattoo policy would mean losing excellent candidates.
In the medical field, having a tattoo does not impede a person's chance at landing a position, but rules about covering them tend to be more stringent. Most facilities require a certain level of concealment during work hours because demonstrating the utmost external professionalism is key to gaining patients’ trust.
According to the UCLA Health System policy: “Any tattoo that may be considered offensive by patients or visitors must be covered by clothing, a band-aid or make-up.” The Cleveland Clinic has a similar policy: “Tattoos must be covered during working hours to ensure a consistent professional appearance while working.”
Mayo Clinic Spokesman Bryan Anderson stated, “Mayo Clinic has long recognized the importance of presenting a professional image to our patients. Under our policy, employees are asked to cover tattoos or other body art.”
Workplace concealment policies vary, but having a tattoo in 2013 certainly doesn’t ruin one’s chance at having a successful career. Still, a 2011 study by CareerBuilder shows that 31% of surveyed employers ranked “having a visible tattoo” as the top personal attribute that would dissuade them from promoting an employee. So although companies across many fields are increasingly focused on diversity and inclusion, tattoo flaunting is still probably best reserved for post-work hours.
Follow me on Twitter @RaeOfSun91