Are tattoos or pink hair still taboo at work?

A new study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior has been getting a lot of attention lately.

Titled « Do employee tattoos leave a mark on customer reactions to products and organizations? » its first author is Dr. Enrica Ruggs, Ph.D., associate professor at the CT Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston.

“We found that visible tattoos on employees do not negatively affect customer attitude or buying behavior in some white-collar jobs,” Ruggs said. « Although customers held both negative and positive stereotypes about tattooed employees, these stereotypes did not negatively influence their attitudes and behaviors toward tattooed employees. In fact, for customers who stereotyped tattooed employees as artistic and creative, they were more likely to positively evaluate the tattooed employee and their organization.

If you’re someone with lots of tattoos and/or lots of piercings, or have a penchant for fashion and extreme hair (hot pink dye, anyone?), here’s what you need to know.

Views change

You no longer need to cover your tattoos.

« There was a time when tattoos were much more stigmatized as a negative status symbol than we see today, » Ruggs said. “Today we see many more people in all types of jobs and industries, especially in white collar jobs, who have tattoos that may be visible at some point in the workplace. ‘combined with the increase in tattoos more broadly, I think people are more and more accepting of tattoos in work environments.

data is okay

According to a LinkedIn study, 50% of American workers say there are parts of their personal life and/or personality that they have stopped trying to hide or minimize at work since the start of the pandemic , with 16% of this group saying this specifically about their tattoos.

The professional networking platform also found that 63% of American workers believe that since the pandemic, managers and colleagues are more accepting of different ways of dressing, hairstyles, piercings, etc.

Ruggs warned that there are still negative employer biases about unethical appearance, and it’s worth noting that nearly half of American workers surveyed report that a manager or co-worker said they behaved in an « unprofessional » manner. Of that group, 13% say it was based on hair, skin, or tattoos, so we still have a ways to go.

Even so, it seems general acceptance is on the rise.
In late 2021, Jessica Hanzie Leonard of Cleveland was taking professional photos for a new position and asked her manager if it was okay for her to take a photo without her jacket displaying her arm tattoos for a personal use on LinkedIn, but pointed out that she would save her jacket on portraits for her company’s website. « Let’s roll with the tattoos in both! » Strong and proud! » said its managing partner.

« I had taken to wearing long sleeves in the heat of the summer, pulling up the sleeves of my suit jacket at every meeting, pulling my hair around my ear so no one could see the little tattoo behind my ear, to avoid getting a leg or ankle tattoo for fear of never being able to wear a skirt again in a professional environment, » Leonard wrote of the experience. « Then sometimes you run into these leaders who not only allow you to present yourself as who you are every day, but also expect it. Those leaders who recognized that whether I was in the jacket or not, I was the same person, the same business professional. . . a woman leader who will most certainly be taken seriously.

Don’t Sweat Job Interviews

Ruggs’ recommendation for people with tattoos or lots of piercings is similar to the advice she would say to most people, « Highlight your knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences that show you’re the right person for the job. » These are the factors that should matter to employers,” she said.

However, it’s a good idea to do some background research to get a sense of the organization’s culture. « If you’re getting signals that people aren’t accepting you because of your looks, it may signal larger issues that you want to avoid, » she added.

Carlota Zimmerman, a 14-year-old career coach based in the East Village, said the most important thing is to be confident in your appearance.

« What’s crucial about ‘extreme fashion’ is the confidence to succeed, » she said. « If you’re going to an interview with purple hair and Scrabble piece tattoos on your shoulder, your clothes should also be on trend. Own your look! Demonstrate that not only do you have a shaved side hairstyle with pink ombre bangs, but underneath that beautiful hair is a great spirit, ambition, social skills, and commitment to business.

Zimmerman, who holds a Juris Doctor, recalls a time when she was on a career coaching panel at the New York State Bar Association.

« I had short hair and blue bangs back then, » she said. « Not a single person commented on my look and, in fact, I walked away with a handful of clients. The more you own your look, the more people in your office will say, ‘Yes, Alissa did a great job with the count Peterman,” not “Who? Oh, the one with the purple hair?”

Some companies have stricter policies

You’re not going to be welcomed with open arms anywhere, whether it’s a white-shoe law firm or Disney World.

If you’re aiming for a company with a tattoo policy, Zimmerman says you’re going to have to lock down your social media or, « grow out your hair, hide your tattoos, and remove your piercings. »

If you do that, think for a second, Zimmerman explained. “Aren’t you removing some very special parts of yourself? Your tattoos, hair color, and piercings probably mean something special to you. Now might be the time for you to really think about how your career goals and your identity fit together. . . or not.


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