Changing perspectives on tattoos at work

Giants like Starbucks are revamping their dress code policies, which is encouraging employees to be themselves. It’s difficult to imagine that more companies won’t follow suit, but just how generous should dress code policies be, are employers losing out on great talent because of rigid, outdated guidelines, and how far on the progressive scale can they go before it starts to affect the bottom line?

In search of different perspectives on the matter, we spoke with Christopher Sadowsky, General Manager at Toronto’s Black Line Studio. Chris talked to us about how he and his team approach clients when it comes to the potential long-term impact body art can have on a person’s professional career.

“We take it upon ourselves to educate each client about their decision. We’ve spoken to people at length about visibility and imagery, even turned away requests for offensive symbols or pieces we simply can’t stand behind. We understand that external perceptions can dictate things like future career success, regardless of the progress in acceptance around tattoos in the workplace.”

Lorena Lorenzo is a tattoo artist at the shop, and says, “The way people look at tattoos is changing, but it really depends on what you do and where you work. Chefs, bartenders, hairdressers – people working these jobs come to us often and they don’t need to think twice about what they want or where they want it. The situation I get the most is young people between 18 and 23 who want to get tattoos on their fingers or face, and with the heavy influence of social media and celebrity culture, they’re not always thinking about the future. They want something because it’s trendy right now. In those cases, I ask what they do for a living or what their long-term plans are.”

To find out just how much body art can affect a hiring decision, we spoke with professionals from different fields about their general experiences and opinions on employee physical appearance.

The Child & Youth Worker

Hayley Pocock works at a homeless shelter and adult group home for individuals with complex disabilities.

“I have never actually had a negative hiring experience in regards to my tattoos, but I did when I was younger due to piercings. Individual style is so important because we encourage our clients to practice freedom of self-expression. I don’t think many employers in the social work space would or should ask anyone to hide any part of who they are, because it doesn’t reflect what we promote to the people we work with.”

The CEO

Faisal Adil is accustomed to hiring and oversees a team of financial experts at Sunstreet Mortgage. He says, “There’s no judgement for me when it comes to hiring, but I do have to protect my company and employees from external perceptions. I expect them to be mature enough to understand that we can’t control the perceptions and judgements of others, and we simply don’t live in a world where everyone is going to be keen on your personal decisions. I think it’s important for businesses across the board to get over their preconceived notions of tattoos, but employees must also understand where a senior executive or owner is coming from if they’re asked to avoid exposing their tattoos during specific meetings or events.”

The Student

Tola Olupona is an articling student, and notes that in her experience, position type and firm reputation have a lot to do with acceptance, “I find that law clerks and legal assistants can get away with a bit of exposure, whereas lawyers or articling students cannot. But it also depends on how prestigious a firm is. The more popular and reputable, the more people are expected to hide their tattoos. And it’s just something that’s understood and isn’t really challenged, because people have a good idea of the rules before they’ve decided to enter this field.”The Body Modification Professional

The Body Modification Artist

Professional piercer Kaleb Takacs also provided us with some insight on the judgment tattoo and body modification artists face themselves, “I’ve been turned away for jobs in my own field because I have tattoos in highly visible areas, like on my fingers. It poses questions around how I would be advising a client about placement when someone like myself exhibits their body art very openly.”

Many formalized work environments have adopted business casual dress codes that offer employees some room for self-expression, but if big conglomerates like Starbucks can take things a step further with a business model that supports, and is even reliant on creating an open and inclusive social setting that begins with its employees, how far off could we be from the official acceptance of body art at work?

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