The way we view body art is changing.
The uptake in tattoos over the years has shifted from covert to mainstream, with a 2019 survey establishing that 30% of 18–35-year-olds have at least one tattoo.
Where Did Tattoos Originate?
Tattooing has been practiced throughout humanity for millennia. Since the Neolithic age, people from all over the globe have inscribed their skin for a range of reasons: from marking social identity, healing purposes, spiritual reasons, or even for conveying abstract concepts like beauty and the supernatural. There is a long, rich history of tattoos across many different indigenous groups, where tattooing has acted as a visual language to communicate culture.
So… Tattoos and Professionalism?
There exist long-held beliefs that tattoos are unprofessional and unfit for work. As the number of young people entering the workplace increases, there have been louder calls to disrupt this negative narrative surrounding tattoos that is pursued by many professional industries.
Despite this many employees, regardless of age, still feel the need to cover up their tattoos for job interviews in 2021. We urge that companies re-think their bias towards tattoos when judging the value of someone’s skillset.
Why Companies Should Re-think Their Bias
At the forefront of these biases is the belief that tattoos are unprofessional – this is often linked to discriminatory associations of tattoos with lower class citizens, a disrespect for the cultural and spiritual significance of tattoos, and a disregard for individual expression and non-conformity.
Put very simply: employers, is it healthy or fair to stifle self-expression for the veneer of an invented, out-dated mode of ‘professionalism?’ – or, to deny someone a role they’d excel at because of the way they look, their economic class, or their cultural background? On this note, is it wise to restrict your talent pool because of an incoherent, pre-conceived judgement?
Take it from Kirsten Davidson, Former Head of Employer Brand at Glassdoor: ‘when we look at companies rated highly for culture & values on Glassdoor, we often see employee feedback about feeling comfortable bringing their whole selves to work or feeling free to be authentic.’
So, other than the few examples of health risks in medical settings, or offensive symbols – why limit freedom of expression in a workspace? Employees are shown to be happier, and therefore more productive, at companies that allow them to be themselves.
What Are My Rights as an Employee?
Tattoos are not currently a protected characteristic by UK law. The general consensus surrounding covering your tattoos is industry specific, with creative companies tending to be more accepting than conservative, client-facing environments.
However, there have been demands for greater protection. ACAS, the non-departmental public body, have published recommended guidance in recent years that advises employers to review strict tattoo policies.
Article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998 protects your right to freedom of thought, conscience, or belief – which can defend you against discrimination if your tattoo has religious connotations.
We strongly believe that candidates shouldn’t feel the need to conceal their tattoo for a job interview. If a company judges you for this, ask yourself: are they really the right company for you?
Ultimately, everyone deserves a professional culture where they are valued for the person they are, and not the flower inked on their shoulder.