Are tattoos becoming more acceptable in the workplace?
Some people think so — thanks to greater tolerance in American society in general, and shifting demographics in the U.S. workplace specifically.
While the typical corporate employer isn’t rushing to embrace people with numerous tattoos or those sporting elaborate in-your-face designs, employees with ink that’s more subtle or demure are finding growing acceptance of tattoos, expert say.
Tina Wells, CEO of Buzz Marketing Group, is an expert on teens and 20-somethings — one segment of the American population that is far more open to the idea of tattoos and at the forefront, in many ways, of pushing the envelope on self-expression.
Interestingly, the Millennial Generation, also known as Generation Y, is following in some ways in the footsteps of Generation X.
“Generation X is all about expressing yourself and getting tattoos is part of that,” notes Wells, who is also the author of Chasing Youth Culture and Getting it Right: How Your Business Can Profit by Tapping Today’s Most Powerful Trendsetters and Tastemakers.
For those who don’t necessarily appreciate tattoos — or even get why anyone would want one — Wells explains that for many people with ink, getting a tattoo is “a way to document a life experience forever.”
But it’s that forever part which can also get folks young and old into trouble — when it comes time to finding a job, landing clients and navigating other parts of life too.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to see my lawyer with a tattoo peeking out from her boobs,” says LaTrice Felton, a singer and entertainer from New Jersey. “The same is true for a doctor, banker or another professional,” says Felton, who nonetheless sports a tattoo of her own on her ankle.
The tattoo features the name of her husband of 17 years, James, and includes hearts and flames.
While Felton is happily married with four children, Wells points out that one of the risks of personalized tattoos becomes painfully obvious if the romance goes sour with someone who has a tattoo. Eva Longoria is a case in point. After a high profile wedding to basketball player Tony Parker — on July 7, 2007 — the duo broke up this year after the actress allegedly discovered that Tony had been having an affair with the wife of a teammate.
Longoria has since had all those tattoos she had of her former spouse removed.
Still, many celebrities and entertainers aren’t shy about showing off their tattoos. Angelina Jolie is known for having many tattoos. Kelly Ripa has a very prominent tattoo, a big flower, on her ankle. And practically the entire NBA is awash in tattoos.
That may be fine for Hollywood actors, singers, or athletes, but the average person — especially one who wants to look for work or remain gainfully employed — really should think long and hard about the location of a tattoo.
“It really matters where the tattoo is,” says Wells.
Also, where you work also makes a huge difference in how acceptable — or not — a tattoo is deemed, by your bosses, colleagues and others.
“What’s acceptable as an employee at MTV is not acceptable if you’re an employee at a law firm,” says Wells.
Even at her own office, Wells says it’s acceptable for the people who work for her to wear jeans. “But it’s not acceptable to wear tank tops, booty shorts, and flip flops.”
In a larger context, people should think about tattoos and whether or not they’d be construed as professional given your specific career or industry.
Felton, the singer, ticks off a range of jobs she thinks where it would be perfectly fine to sport subtle tattoos: including cashiers, retail workers, many service-oriented positions and well as workers who are employed in outdoor jobs.
But even when it comes to office positions, Wells says as a society we’re edging toward a growing comfort level with tattoos.
In many ways, tattoos for many people are evolving from expression to a quasi-form of cultural or even religious expression, Wells adds — much like a Muslim woman might say she wants to sport a scarf to work, or a person with dreadlocks might want to keep their long flowing locks in tact on a corporate job.
If that’s the case, it might not be long before we even see workplace rights or laws preventing discrimination against those with tattoos. Now that would be evolution.