Are tattoos or hot-pink hair still taboo in the workplace?

TRAVEL & LIFESTYLE: Are tattoos or hot-pink hair still taboo in the workplace?

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A new study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior has got a lot of ink lately.

Titled “Do Employees’ Tattoos Leave a Mark on Customers’ Reactions to Products and Organizations?,” its first author is Dr. Enrica Ruggs, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business.

“We found that visible tattoos on employees do not negatively harm customers’ attitudes or purchasing behavior in some white-collar jobs,” Ruggs said. “Although customers had 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 evaluate the tattooed employee and their organization positively.”

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

Views are a-changin’

You no longer need to cover up your tats.

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

Data agrees

According to research from LinkedIn, 50% of working Americans say there are parts of their personal life and/or personality that they’ve stopped trying to hide or downplay at work since the pandemic began, with 16% of this group saying this specifically about their tattoos.

The professional networking platform also found that 63% of working Americans believe that, since the pandemic, managers and colleagues have become more accepting of different ways of dressing, hairstyles, piercings, etc.

Ruggs cautioned that there is still some negative bias from employers about nonconformist looks, and it’s worth noting that nearly half of working Americans polled report that a manager or colleague has said they were behaving in a way that was “unprofessional.” Of this group, 13% say it was based on hair, skin or tattoos, so we still have a ways to go.

Even so, it seems like mainstream acceptance is on the rise.
In late 2021, Jessica Hanzie Leonard of Cleveland was taking professional shots for a new position and asked her manager if he was OK with her taking a photo without her jacket displaying her arm tattoos for personal use on LinkedIn, but stressed she would keep her jacket on for portraits for her company’s website. “Let’s roll with the tattoos in both! Loud and proud!” her managing partner said.

“I had grown accustomed to wearing long sleeves in the heat of summer, to tugging on my suit coat sleeves in every meeting, to pulling my hair around my ear so no one would get a glimpse of the small tattoo behind my ear, to avoiding getting any leg or ankle tattoos for fear of never being able to wear a skirt again in a business setting,” Leonard wrote of the experience. “Then sometimes, you come across those leaders who not only allow you to show up every day as you are, but they also expect it. Those leaders who have recognized that whether I’m in the jacket or not, I’m the same person, the same business professional . . . a female 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 give most people: “Highlight your knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences that illustrate that you are 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 get signals that people are not accepting of you because of your appearance, this may signal broader issues that you want to steer clear of,” she added.

Carlota Zimmerman, a career coach of 14 years based in the East Village, said that, above all, you should be confident in your appearance.

“What’s crucial about ‘extreme fashion’ is the confidence to pull it off,” she said. “If you are going into an interview with purple hair and tattoos of Scrabble pieces down your shoulder, your clothing should also be fashion forward. Own your look! Demonstrate that not only do you have a hairstyle that’s shaved on one side with pink ombre bangs, but underneath that great hair is a great mind, ambition, social skills and a commitment to the company.”

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 at the time,” she said. “Not one 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 Peterman account,’ not, ‘Who? Oh, that one with the purple hair?’ ”

Some companies have stricter policies

You aren’t going to be met with open arms everywhere, whether it’s a white-shoe law firm or Disney World.

If you have your sights set on 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 take out your piercings.”

If you do this, think for a second, explained Zimmerman. “Aren’t you removing some very special parts of yourself? Your tattoos and hair color and piercings each probably represent something special to you. This might be the time for you to really think about how your career goals and identity mesh . . . or don’t.”

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