Social attitudes towards visibly tattooed people are changing. Body art is becoming more common in workplaces, academia, and on those in leadership positions. Studies about whether prospective job candidates face challenges in terms of hiring and salary have shown mixed results, with some finding that discrimination still exists, and others showing virtually no difference in employment potential and earnings for those with and without body modifications. Overall, there is a growing realization in many industries that overlooking adorned candidates is a hiring mistake.
As a heavily tattooed person who has experience in fields ranging from the more traditional to the body modification industry itself, I’ve worked on teams with no other tattooed people, with companies where everyone was covered head to toe, and have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about tattoos in the workplace.
Here are my observations, and five reasons why hiring someone with high-quality visible tattoos may be the best staffing decision you can make:
1. High-quality body art demonstrates stability, dedication, and commitment.
Tattoos are changing. Long gone are the days where tattoos were limited in style, scope, and quality. Modern tattooers have improved the level of artistry, developing their own styles and aesthetics, and raising the standard for body art.
Because of this, the world’s best tattooers (like Jeff Gogue, Carlos Torres, or Raph Cemo), aren’t generally available for walk-ins at low prices. High-quality body art deservingly fetches a high price, and often involves waiting years for an appointment. A large-scale tattoo such as a sleeve or back-piece takes many appointments, each costing thousands of dollars.
People who have substantial work from reputable artists have typically spent a considerable amount of time researching the artist, waiting for appointments, and saving up. Tattoos are a luxury, and for many require long-term dedication to be able to afford and actualize.
Add to this the practical element of a tattoo being a decision that lasts a lifetime, and it becomes evident that those with good tattoo work are often some of the most devoted individuals that you may have the opportunity to hire. The ability to make a decision, focus on achieving the goal, and commit to both the process and outcome are all traits that have served me well in my professional journey.
2. Being tattooed requires bravery, and the ability to handle discomfort.
I often have conversations with people who tell me that they would love to get a tattoo, if it weren’t for fear of the physical pain involved. Of course, it is true that tattoos hurt (though the degree of pain depends on the person and location). Even now, as someone with the majority of my body tattooed, I still get a bit nervous before the first moment the needle hits the skin.
But that fear won’t stop me from doing something that I’ve set my mind to.
Becoming a tattooed person is a process, and that process involves discomfort. I’ve learned a lot from the hours spent getting my head or feet tattooed; these experiences have taught me that I am in control of my body, I am capable of overcoming things that are difficult, and not to avoid something important just because it may be challenging in the moment.
In many ways, this physical strain is similar to work that may be emotionally challenging. Sometimes employees may need to be able to pull long hours during a crunch period, or restructuring may temporarily throw an organization into chaos. Those who have deliberately placed themselves in challenging and uncertain situations before are uniquely equipped to handle difficult and dynamic circumstances in the workplace.
3. We don’t compromise our values.
Despite the fact that social attitudes towards tattoos are increasingly positive, there are still times where tattooed people face discrimination or less favorable treatment. Individuals with visible tattoos are acutely aware of this, and despite that have made the decision to adorn themselves as they see fit.
For me, the most visible tattoo I have is the sides of my head. While most of it could technically be covered with my hair, it was still a big decision to make. I knew that in the future I would be re-entering graduate school and a more traditional workforce, and it may be a liability. But I also knew that being tattooed was part of my identity, and that not doing something simply out of fear of disapproval from others was not the kind of person I wanted to be. I’ve never regretted the decision to represent myself authentically.
This mindset is similar in my professional life. I am not afraid of voicing new ideas that may differ from the organizational trajectory, or to critique a process that I feel could be improved. If I see others being treated unfairly for being their authentic selves, I will speak up. I am proud knowing that I’ve had the confidence to live my life with integrity towards myself and my values, and this helps me to carry out my professional duties with aplomb.
4. You’ll miss out.
Globally, approximately 40% of people have a tattoo, and about 25% have more than one. Among Americans, 46% have a tattoo, with the median number of tattoos per person totaling approximately four. While young people under 30 have high rates of tattoos (with 32% having at least one), the demographic with the most representation is those between the ages of 30 and 49, at 45%. Even among those over 50, about 28% have at least one tattoo.
While many of these tattoos are likely not visible, as societal attitudes continue to change, it is reasonable to assume that this will as well. Forgoing candidates on the basis of visible tattoos arbitrarily limits the talent pool, and puts firms that do so at a competitive disadvantage.
5. We’re approachable.
In the past when pushed about my tattoos, I’ve had people ask if I’d want my doctor to be tattooed. My answer has always been an emphatic, “Yes!”. For many people from more diverse communities or younger generations, tattoos create something in common with another person and enhance the level of trust in the transaction.
Most people are instantly more comfortable with those they feel they can relate with, which can have tangible consequences in the workplace. For example, librarians have traditionally had a bit of a reputation for being “shushers” rather than someone to turn to for questions and support. Given the vital nature of library services (particularly for disadvantaged communities), this can be a serious problem. In recent years there has been a transition towards allowing body art in an effort to create an environment where diverse clientele feel like they belong, and aren’t afraid to ask for guidance.
Another great example is the trend among younger companies to relax the level of formality for customer support. I don’t know about you, but I much it prefer when I call a company with a question or an issue and I’m communicated with in a relaxed way by someone who sounds like a normal human being, versus a formal and scripted engagement. Interacting with tattooed people is similar; I can instantly relax and communicate in a more genuine manner. Customer-facing roles, particularly those serving a younger or more diverse client base can absolutely benefit from hiring visibly tattooed people. As younger generations also become a larger constituency for industries that have traditionally been more conservative towards tattoos (perhaps in the process of buying a home or seeking legal counsel), this will become increasingly relevant.
The decision to modify one’s body is a deeply personal one.
The goal of this article is to highlight the unique set of strengths that adorned job candidates bring to the table, rather than to promote any particular lifestyle or body modification decision.
It is also important to consider that those who have the capacity to spend on luxuries such as tattoo work may come disproportionately from privileged communities. A holistic approach towards inclusive hiring which considers everything that contributes to a candidate will always be the best approach for making successful hiring decisions.