Tattoos impact attitudes toward hiring on all sides

Noah Isherwood, Campus Carrier asst. arts and living editor 

daniel's wrist.jpg
Junior Daniel Holder’s tattoo represents the importance of family and music in his life. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Holder

For many years, students have been told that having tattoos will lessen a prospect’s chances at landing jobs, but it seems that this may be changing. In an ever-evolving culture, tattoos and other forms of body modification such as piercings are becoming increasingly more accepted, but is this social change accurately reflected in the modern hiring process? 

Sue Tarpley, the director of the Career Center, said that the more conservative idea that tattoos are not workplace appropriate is indeed changing. 

“There are lots of industries where the concept isn’t really as valid anymore,” Tarpley said. 

Many modern businesses are adopting more casual work environments and dress codes, and this practice can extend to tattoos. However, there is no standard in American business as a whole. 

“Ultimately it’s going to come down to the employer and whether it’s a policy that they have or not,” Tarpley said. “Tattoos that aren’t visible aren’t a conversation really, so it is really visible tattoos that come into question and there are still employers who have policies that restrict visible tattoos.” 

Companies often use such policies as tools to ensure uniformity among employees. There are apparently no legal precedents or laws regarding such policies, except that they not be discriminatory towards any race or gender specifically. 

“I think that if an employer has a policy it’s their right to have a policy, there aren’t any laws that prohibit an employer from not allowing people to have visible tattoos, but if they do have a policy it has to be carried out across the board,” Tarpley said. 

Of course, there are some industries in which tattoos are not frowned upon, in fact, they are welcomed. Timothy Knowlton, associate professor of anthropology, mentioned the fact that the tech industry in particular, where work environments are notoriously relaxed, seems to be quite accepting of tattoos. 

“In terms of work, acceptance has been tied to the influence of this movement towards more casual work environment in the sense of dress and appearance that’s really kind of associated with Silicon Valley, to the point that it becomes an external way to show that you think outside the box,” Knowlton said. 

Knowlton further provided a history of tattooing in America, helping give context to the current argument over the acceptability of tattoos in our culture. 

“Tattooing and these other forms of body modification really become kind of a package with the punk movement and the associated counterculture,” Knowlton said. 

From there, tattooing and piercing soon established themselves as aspects of culture that bucked more conservative mores of American society. 

“By the turn of the 80s is where it starts to become more of a mark of, in a way, more cosmopolitan communities; it’s also tied to the rise of LGBTQ communities, where this whole range of body modifications had more acceptance early on,” Knowlton said. 

Perhaps it is in these facts that we find the reason for the slow acceptance of body modification in the workplace. Hiring those who belong to communities actively engaged in protesting several different aspects of society may not be the most attractive idea to more conservative companies looking to play it safe with their employees, even if not all those with tattoos belong to those communities. This argument against hiring them is losing steam for two reasons: companies cannot afford to ignore those with tattoos as many of their candidates have them, and tattoos are no longer strictly the domain of the counterculture. 

Bebo Saucier, a sophomore secondary education and English major, recently got two tattoos, and she does not view the reasoning behind them as countercultural. She plans on getting one tattoo for each of her years at Berry, each having some sort of significance from its respective year, specifically in regard to her Christian faith. 

“Faith is something that is very important to me and I wanted something that was going to be on my body permanently to be important to me, it had to have some kind of meaning,” Saucier said. 

Even with this thoughtful reasoning for her tattoos, Saucier still recognizes the fact that her prospective employers in the education field may have policies or attitudes against tattoos. 

“I wanted to be able to cover them up, because I’m planning on being a teacher, and that’s obviously a profession where tattoos are still frowned upon a lot, so I wanted to be able to cover them up,” Saucier said. 

Junior music education major Daniel Holder expressed similar sentiments regarding his tattoo and prospective employers. 

“I could just put a watch over it, or if I’m interviewing I could just have my sleeves rolled down so they can’t see my wrist,” Holder said. 

Holder’s tattoo has several layers of meaning behind it. The eighth-note triplet represents both Holder and his two sisters and his love of the note sequence itself. 

“Whenever I see this on my wrist, I’ll think, ‘music is important to me, family is important to me, my sisters are important to me,’” Holder said. 

Even with the layers of meaning reflected in the tattoos of Saucier and Holder, their strategic thinking regarding the placement of their tattoos reflects the reality that employers, in this case those in the education field, definitely still take tattoos into account in the hiring process. If this were not the case, neither Saucier nor Holder would need to worry about their tattoo’s placement. 

Obviously, tattooing is an issue that is very much on the minds of those about to enter the workforce and those already in it, and it is an issue that will not soon disappear. 

“As far back as we have human remains with skin, we have tattoos,” Knowlton said. 

Body art and modification are longstanding human practices, independent from and older than business culture. As these practices grow and change with society, so too do economic practices that respond to them. Businesses do seem to be more accepting of tattoos in the workplace, but applicants still worry. Only time will tell whether or not this cultural dance will reach a harmonious conclusion. 

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