When I got my first tattoo, I absolutely loved it. My dad, however, did not. In fact, “It’s not real, is it? You’re joking aren’t you?” was his first response.
A few hours later, still hung up on my decision to get a small cross symbol on my wrist, he asked me, “Do you think you’re going to get a job with that?”
(Little did he know I had a second one on my ankle – but that was a surprise for another day).
He did get me thinking though, and I became a little concerned.
Was my dad’s snarky question justified? Was I not going to get employed at a newsroom, and oh god – what if I decide to work at a corporate office job one day?
With one in five Australians having at least one tattoo, a number that is only rising, should tattoo owners be worried about their future job prospects?
I started to do some research and discovered that (for the most part) my ink won’t jeopardise my employment chances. Phew.
There’s been a common misconception dating back years that having some ink can impact your employability. For many, tattoos were seen as alternative (no, not in a good way) and quite frankly, something only rock-stars and motorbike gang members could truly pull off.
But now, we live in a world where what was considered ‘out there’, unattractive or questionable several years back is now an acceptable norm. Getting your seconds pierced has gone from trashy to trendy, curvy is the new skinny, and moving in with your partner before marriage is practised by over 60 per cent of couples who live together. Bottom line: times have changed.
I come from a quite conservative family, so I knew choosing to get a tattoo, let alone two, would send shivers up my parents’ spines. I didn’t even want to think about what my grandparents would say.
I was most afraid to show my Nanna (who by the way, is a conservative Catholic).
Numerous visits went by without her noticing until one fateful afternoon I just had to confess. I swallowed my pride and showed her, expecting her to look like she’d just seen a ghost, and ask me what on earth I was thinking. But her response? “I want one too!”
I kid you not, my conservative, 72-year-old grandma said SHE wants to join me in getting inked.
A lot has changed since the age of traditionalists, Baby Boomers and Gen X; even the most conservative of grandparents are starting to realise tattoos aren’t all that bad.
This same principle of acceptance is increasing in the workplace too.
Back in June this year, Air New Zealand dropped their ban on staff tattoos. After months of research and consultations with clients and staff members, the airline company came to the conclusion that tattoos are becoming a more accepted way of self-expression.
And it’s not just employment agencies changing their policies.
The Human Rights Commission (HRC), in taking an anti-discrimination approach, now say it’s against the law for employees and interviewees to be treated unfairly because of their ink.
When a tattoo reflects an individual’s race, sex or gender identity, it may be discriminatory and unreasonable to refuse to employ them on the basis of their permanent body art, says the HRC.
Cracking the tattoo stigma doesn’t end there. According to a 2018 American study by Human Relations, tattoos are now been recognised as something that is not only trendy and normalised, but they will NOT affect your chances of scoring that 9-5 job of your dreams.
The study says despite previous research suggesting tattoos make people less employable (especially those with visible, ‘offensive’ tattoos that are hard to hide), there was no evidence of employment, wage or earnings discrimination against people with various types of tattoos.
So having a tattoo doesn’t actually seem to disadvantage an interviewee or employee if they decide to get tatted up!
Eliza Spencer, a freelance journalist and newly-graduated communications student has five tattoos, each representing something important to her or carrying their own individual message.
Some of them, like the sunflower on her wrist, reflects a part of her personal identity and self-development.
“I’ve written a lot about sunflowers being an important symbolic part of my life in periods of suffering and hardship,” says Eliza. “So having one permanently on my skin rather than just buying sunflowers whenever I feel sad is really comforting.”
But like many of us tattoo owners with a strong work-ethic and ambition, she did have her reservations.
“Before my first professional tattoo I was so nervous about my job prospects after. I spoke a lot with the tattoo artists about the location of the tattoo so I could cover it in job interviews and how to make it look classy.”
Now though, Eliza is leaving her tatts open to the eye when going for a new job; “I used to cover them up a lot in interviews, I’ve stopped doing that now.”
But while there’s growing acceptance, it really does depend on the case at hand.
The occupation, the mindset of the employers themselves, the workplace policy, and the size or nature of the tattoo all play a part in how body art is perceived and accepted.
If you have a giant sleeve tattoo with knives and scissors, and the job you’re going for has a uniform where you wear T-shirts, then yeah, perhaps you may be refused because of your ink.
But for tattoos that are symbolic, meaningful or dainty, research is telling us they won’t be affecting your interview success.
We are now living in a world where permanent body art has a more universal appreciation. Even professional workplaces are recognising that the ink of your skin doesn’t impede the worth ethic of the person it belongs to.