As an experienced career professional, I find that while we live in a day and age where self expression is encouraged, it does not necessarily translate well into the corporate world when we try to merge our personal “self” with our professional lives. This is particularly true for those of us with body art, or tattoos.
Prior to the 1980s, tattooing was mainly thought to be something done by military members or social deviants. However, recent surveys indicate that more than 36 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, leading society to the conclusion that the trend of body art is becoming more socially acceptable. But is it professionally acceptable? Yes and No.
Along with the increasing numbers of individuals donning body art across the country, so too are amount of the corporate policies designed to police the display of body art. Is this legal? Well, it is a fine line that companies must walk. While employers cannot discriminate against people that have tattoos, much like they can’t discriminate on the basis of race, `religion, gender, etc; they can determine that an individual may, or may not, be qualified for a position based on skills, qualifications, fit into the company culture, as well as how they represent the company.
As a recruiting and human resources professional, as well as an individual with two tattoos, I can tell you that I have worked for and recruited for companies with such policies. The purpose of a tattoo policy is not to hinder an employee from expressing themselves or their personality. What employees and job seekers often fail to understand is that the company is not trying to restrict them from having body art; they could care less if an employee has a tattoo, they simply don’t want to see it. What we must realize is that this decision has nothing to do with us at all. At the end of the day, an employee has to represent the company in both skill and professionalism, and a main component to professionalism is looking the part.
Additionally, tattoo policies are often created to prevent employee unrest or hostile work environments because they remove the opportunity for someone to be offended, or conflict created, because of the image or tattoo chosen by another employee.
So what do people who have tattoos, such as me, do if they want to maintain a professional presence? Cover it! In my case, my most visible tattoo is on my ankle, so I usually wear business slacks or shoes that will cover the tattoo. If you are considering a tattoo, I would recommend finding a place on your body that can be easily covered. This is no different than the other advice I often recommend to students, whether it is with their resume or dressing for an interview; put your best foot forward and represent the company as professionally as possible, letting your personality shine through in other ways rather than displaying your body art.