While it’s still absolutely a company’s prerogative whether it chooses to hire visibly modified folk, it’s becoming an increasingly poor business decision for a variety of reasons. Sure, there was a time when the conventional wisdom was that tattoos were strictly the domain of the lowest rungs on the ladder, but that’s a borderline indefensible position nowadays. Hell, when 24-percent of people in the coveted 18-50 age-range have at least one tattoo, it seems almost senseless. And apparently, human resource departments are catching on!
At some point, a blanket no-tattoos policy will almost certainly compromise your ability to hire the talent you need, and it would appear to move against a general trend to be more tolerant of tattoos. Educational level and social status no longer predict who has body art. The young financial officer who handles your business banking may have a Celtic symbol on her ankle. The lawyer who works your case may simply take out his nose ring when he goes to court.
As a result, many major employers have revised their tattoo policies, making them more lenient. Disney is good example. After polling the people who visit their theme parks and finding little objection, the company lifted tattoo restrictions. Faced with talent shortages, many hospitals have moved from a no tattoo policy, to a “no highly visible tattoos” stance.
This may seem like old news — indeed, it certainly is — but it’s undeniably positive and surprisingly progressive. Of course, the trend is not as far-reaching as some would hope:
That said, the professionals who responded to the SHRM survey made it clear that body art still leads to stereotyping. Furthermore, in a 2007 survey 85% of respondents said that tattoos and body piercings impede a person’s chances of finding a job.
Now, as someone who often laments the fact that he was born in an era in which wearing a three-piece suit at all times isn’t quite necessary, I personally love the cognitive dissonance of seeing an impeccably dressed person with hints of tattoos peeking out from behind cuffs and collars. There should be some sort of decorum when it comes to the way one dresses for work, but I don’t think a dress code and body modification are irreconcilable, either. My favorite take on this comes from Keith Alexander, who was, among many other things, a heavily tattooed ball-breaker that flourished in marketing and advertising:
[...] the older generations [are] dying off and the younger generations [are] coming up, and the majority of them have [tattoo] work. [...] So, look, we’ve reached critical mass as far as public awareness goes: Everybody knows there’s people like us and people crazier than us doing these things. So, they’re aware of it, it’s just a matter of your resumé and experience being able to back it up. I don’t think that, given the choice between a person who is somewhat qualified and not pierced or tattooed and a person who is extremely qualified and pierced and tattooed, I think that the business environment is such these days that you have to make the right choice to go for the person that’s best for the job, visible work or not.
So it’s really … I hear so many people just whining about, “My quote-unquote mods keep me out of jobs,” and I really don’t buy into that. If you have a full facial tattoo and you got it when you were 16 and it’s shitty art, then maybe that is working against you, but I don’t have much sympathy for you. So again, I’ve never really had a problem, it’s always just a matter of setting the goal and going for it. I’ve counseled and helped so many of my friends with going through transitions like that because I’ve done it so many times, and the advice that I give them is to just pick what you want to do and go for it.
The best thing to do is just live your life and lead by example. You know, that’s what I like to do; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in big presentations, I’ve just given a great presentation, everyone’s just kind of blown away, and then I roll up my sleeves and people are like, “Holy shit, that’s a lot of work,” and you know, I’m totally aware of when I do it, how I do it, why I’m doing it, and so on. So you just have to set an example by the way you live your life.