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Tattoos in the Workplace: Is Discrimination Declining, or Just Shifting?

Angelina Jolie tattoosGoogle search for “tattoos in the workplace” will turn up more results than you can read in a lifetime. And the top search engine real estate is dominated by sites including Forbes, USAToday, and Business Insider.

In an old 2011 article from Forbes, the site argues that tattoos still have a negative impact on your career. Then in 2013 they took back that claim, stating that tattoos were “no longer a kiss of death in the workplace“.

The strange thing is that while both of these articles were posted two years apart and argue completely opposite points, they support their claims with the exact same research studies.

In fact, anyone who browses through those top news sources will see that every piece on the topic cites the same three sources: an old 2011Career Builders survey, a 2010 Pew Research report on millennials, and an infographic designed by a skin boutique (seriously??)

Hard to believe, right? For a question affecting millions of people, you’d think those top news sources would do better than just recycling article after article on the same pathetically inadequate research sources that they’ve used for years.

What does current research say?

Employment correspondent Annie Singer decided to look into the most credible and up-to-date academic research on tattoos and employment, and uncovered some interesting conclusions and statistics. The results she posted are copied below:

Here are a few key findings from the research studies I reviewed that support that attitudes towards tattoos in the workplace may be changing:

  • 86% of young professionals did not think piercings and tattoos reduce the chance of getting jobs (source)
  • Grooming and business attire were more important indicators in the hiring decision than tattoos and piercings (source)
  • Heavily tattooed professionals felt that tattoos made them more accessible to younger coworkers (source)

However there were also findings that tattoos still may be limiting in the workplace. Researchers also revealed that:

  • Visible tattoos had a predominantly negative effect on employment selection, driven by the hiring manager’s perception of customer expectations (source)
  • Tattooed professionals frequently experienced unwanted touching in the workplace (source)
  • Consumers showed a preference for non-tattooed front-line staff (source)

What does it mean?

When consulting the actual research, we clearly see that there’s been steady progress towards the acceptance of tattoos in the workplace; however highly visible tattoos can still have a negative impact, particularly in customer-facing jobs.

Tattooed professionals often keep their “business” and “tattooed” identities separate by covering up their skin in professional settings, especially upon first meetings when initial impressions are formed. Some workers choose to always keep their tattoos hidden, while others show them after they’ve established professional knowledge and authority.

If you are worried about negative impacts of tattoos either in finding employment or advancing in your career, make sure the tattoos you get can be easily covered up to mitigate the risks of discrimination. And if you opt for a tat across your forehead … you better be really good at concealing with makeup!

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