Shifting Taboos on Tattoos

By Kaitlin Montgomery

Throughout the years, tattoos have gotten a bad rap within the workplace -- they simply shouldn't be seen. As times change and new generations take the place of the old, the line regarding tattoos as inappropriate could be shifting.

"Tattoo acceptance in the workplace," a Facebook group created to "take away the stigma attached to people who have tattoos in the workplace," has gained 1.5 million followers with the number of members growing each day. The group advocates for the workplace to allow employees the ability to freely showcase their body art.

The group states, "Tattoos are art. Some of us have chosen to express ourselves not with vibrant shoes, or a colorful tie, but with body art. What is the difference?"

Members of the group post pictures daily sharing their stories and, more importantly, their tattoos. One post reads, "I work at a children's hospital in the Radiology Dept. been there for 9 years, TATTOOS AND ALL!!" For them it's all about the marriage of being both tattooed and employed.

Woody Catoe, a career counselor at the Career Development Center, has seen firsthand the shifts occurring with tattoos in the workplace.

"I'm no authority of tattoos," Catoe said. "You've got a general rule going on here and that has to do with just general appearance going into an interview."

Catoe stressed the issue of distraction. According to him, tattoos aren't necessarily bad, but one must remember the group or corporation they're interviewing for.

"You've got to ask yourself what you want to emphasize," Catoe said. Do you want to emphasize the fact that you've got tattoos or do you want to emphasize the fact that 'I've got something to offer this company'?"

According to Catoe, the work environment also plays a large part in tattoo acceptance.
"You have to ask the question, 'What do I know about the work environment that I'm going into?'" Catoe said. "If it's laid back, if it's Microsoft or something like that where those kinds of things [tattoos] may not be an issue then you're probably okay with them."

Most importantly it's all about the first impression. In only a few seconds, Catoe explained, someone can make up his or her mind.

"A lot of the time it comes down to imagine consciousness and a reputation," Catoe said. "We tell students that they need to be very conscious of that first impression. You only get one. People make a lot of decisions in just the first few seconds and minutes when they encounter a new person. Little things can make a big difference."

Catoe mentioned the difference of generations, saying that there would be a greater chance for the acceptance of one's tattoos in a younger generation company. They've simply grown up with tattoos as a piece of their culture.

"If you've got someone in their 50s and 60s interviewing you, it might be a little more of a stretch," Catoe said. "Again, it all depends on what their life experience is, but people, unfortunately, draw conclusions quickly about things and sometimes miss opportunities with very strong candidates because they can't get around one issue."

In Catoe's opinion, tattoos are something of a bumper sticker; they're a personal message that you're broadcasting to those around you.

"I think the message on the tattoo also plays a part," Catoe said. "Tattoos are very personal statements and an interviewer might not know what you're trying to communicate. Tattoos are kind of like carrying a bumper sticker around: you're making a statement one way or the other."

It's the statement that tattoos make that the Chick-fil-A at Cameron Village is concerned with.
"We have employees with tattoos, we just ask that they be covered up," said Chick-fil-A's manager Cody Hanna. "It's really for the comfortability of our customers."

Sugar Magnolia, the free trade clothing store on Hillsborough Street, has a different attitude towards tattoos.

"We have no policy against tattoos," said Hallie Yamamoto, the store's assistant manager. "I wear backless shirts all the time and I have tattoos."

Yamamoto explained that of course while their manager expects them to be clean and presentable, having tattoos doesn't deter his employees from that image.

"My manager once made this great comment," Yamamoto said. "He told us that we have such a unique clientele that come to our store. He wouldn't want any of our customers to feel discriminated against in any way. If we had to cover up our tattoos it would be like we were telling them what they have is inappropriate too."