tattoos in the workplace, professional, professionalism, alternative culture, tattoos and employment

The Growing Acceptance of Tattoos in the Workplace

There is no arguing the fact that tattoos are more accepted today than the generations before us ever had the chance to experience, yet tattooed individuals still face struggles in the workplace. Why is our society struggling so hard to let go of the negative stigma associated with tattoos and the alternative culture?

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The alternative culture has long been slapped with a stigma of unruliness, rebellion and inability to ‘play nice’ in society as a whole. Looking at the more extreme stereotypes, we are the degenerates and failures of society, the people who will never amount to more than criminals and troublemakers. How ridiculous is that?

Good news – There has been as a significant shift in society’s perception of tattoos, which has led to more people than ever embracing this opportunity for creative expression. We are even going as far as to see tattoo artists for what they really are, an incredible group of artists comparable to the painters and the sculptures of the world. The only difference? They choose a different canvas – the human skin.

When I got my first tattoo back in 2006, you would have thought I was considering joining some crazy cult focused on regular ritualistic human sacrifice. That’s the level of disgust that many friends and family made known, warning me that I was ‘destroying my whole life’. All of this over a back tattoo that, honestly, is fully covered in 99% of the clothing that I was wearing to school and work situations at the time. The one thing working in my favour? I was already involved with the Canadian Army at this point, and tats were already widely accepted there at the time. From there, my love of tattoos took an important step from admiring afar to starting to collect my own ‘art gallery’.

tattoos in the workplace, professional, professionalism, alternative culture, tattoos and employment, tattoo, tattoos, tattoo culture

Fast-forward a few years and some new ink, and here we are today. Not only do I love and embrace my tats, but I’m rocking my love of all things alternative including my signature teal blue hair, some new piercings and a wardrobe that favours black and skulls. Most importantly, a style that embodies who I am inside and out, a level of self-acceptance and self-love that many work hard to find.

The view of tattoos in the workplace has definitely evolved over these last 13 years. No longer is a single small tattoo seen as the ‘kiss of death’ it was once viewed as. In fact, according to data released by Dalia Research out of Berlin, Germany, 33% of Canadians have at least one tattoo, slightly below the United States at 46% and the United Kingdom at 40%.

Even more interesting than the numbers was something the researchers wrote: “While many attribute the growing popularity of tattoos to rebellious, soul-searching millennials, our results show this isn’t exactly the case. We found that those with tattoos don’t fall neatly into the stereotypical image of the tatted barista or the world-weary sailor. Instead, tattoos are actually more common among the people you’d least expect.”

Today, it’s not uncommon to see tattoos of all sizes and styles throughout different ages, styles, career paths and more. It’s not a shock for a doctor to roll up their sleeves revealing a tatted arm or a businesswoman to hit the pool with friends revealing a beautiful rib piece. However, while the tides are certainly shifting, we’re not there yet.

The business world today is more accepting, sure, but that doesn’t mean that the stigma is all but gone. While we can look one another in the eye and admit that tattoos shouldn’t impact one’s ability to obtain a job, as the ink on my skin doesn’t have a direct impact on my work ethics or leadership qualities, many experts warn that the perception is still playing a notable role both positively and negatively. Depending on your career path of choice or the company you are looking at, tattoos may actually help or hinder your job search. Some employers are looking for an ‘edgier’, younger image and believe that tattoos may actually help their employees to attract a younger consumer. Meanwhile, other employers continue to hold onto a more traditional, conservative view of professionalism.

Tattoos that CAN be covered up are much more accepted in conservative circles than those that are more challenging to conceal such as those on the hands, neck and face. Furthermore, tattoos that depict profanity or vulgarity are largely a turn off for potential employers, but should this come as a shock? If you were to take that artwork and put it on a shirt, would you wear that to a professional interview?

However, for the vast majority of tattoos out there, this isn’t a concern. There are beautiful floral tats, inspirational messages, and unique works of art. Could you imagine the uproar if it hit the news that an organization was found to be selecting their employees based on blonde hair versus brunette? Human Resource lawyers around the globe would be tripping over one another to take on the case of those potential employees who were so obviously wronged. So, why don’t we have the same mindset when it comes to tattoos?

We are headed in that direction. While there are currently no laws protecting my rights as a tattooed Canadian in the workforce, there have been examples of lawsuits tied to clear discrimination relating to a specific tattoo. A restaurant was slapped with a lawsuit in Seattle, Washington when a candidate was refused employment due to the fact that he had tattoos on his wrist signifying the Egyptian sun god Ra. A practitioner of Kemeticism, it would be considered sacrilegious for him to cover the tattoos. Recognizing the fine line, they were faced with, the company chose to settle on the eve of their trial.

Long story short? Do you! If you identify with the alternative culture as I do, then do so proudly and with confidence. Set an example of kindness, professionalism and compassion in a world where many still judge us incorrectly. Share articles and stats like those included here to help educate those who may be misinformed. The world is heading in the right direction, but we have to pick up the torch and continue to help open the eyes, hearts and minds of those we encounter every day. You are a living example of our culture, are you helping to eradicate this stigma and setting us back with your choices?

Have you ever dealt with a situation where you were judged for your tattoos openly in the workforce? Has a potential employer ever come out and admitted to you that they will not hire you unless your tattoos can be covered? Share your thoughts on the subject below, I’d love to hear them!

26 thoughts on “The Growing Acceptance of Tattoos in the Workplace”

    1. We’ve definitely made strides on acceptance, I can’t wait for the day that the stigma is considered uncommon!
      Thank you! This colour is hands down my favourite.

    1. It really is, and how things that were once considered *gasp* horrifying and career suicide can come around to being more mainstream

    1. Exactly! We all just need to be authentic to who we are, embrace and love ourselves and bring light into the world in our own, unique way

  1. This was really interesting! I don’t have any myself but I definitely don’t think smaller ones are an issue for most people these days. In some job situations, they’re even a good talking point and some people like the little nod of individuality as long as it’s nothing too offensive. Makeup is phenomenal these days anyway, you can always cover one if you really have to! Such an interesting read x


    1. I agree, you can definitely cover one if you have to, although I can’t wait until we reach the point where that becomes a matter of ‘if you want to’. Big strides have been taken, it just needs to keep moving in this direction.

  2. I think the quality of tattoos has come a LONG way as well! I’m in my early 40s and when my friends were getting tattoos back in the day they were awful! Now I look at tattoos as a form of beauty – of art. So, no wonder they are more accepted everywhere. It’s nice that people can show their creativity in their look and everyone doesn’t have to look the same!

    1. I remember getting my first tattoo and how difficult it was to find a GOOD artist in my area at the time. I managed to book with an award winning artist and got a beautiful piece, but you’re right, the average tattoo wasn’t nearly as detailed as his was

  3. I am too scared to go under the needle even though I have been wishing to ink myself for a really long time. It is interesting to observe that how our generation is more receptive towards tattoos at workplace. Do you have any stories behind choosing particular designs while getting inked? I love to read/ hear stories behind tattoos. Tattoos tell a lot about life’s journey through ups and downs.


    1. I do, one of my pieces actually has REALLY important meaning to me, my first tattoo. My father passed away when I was 15, and I put a red rose in his casket. From that point on I would leave a red rose for his birthday, holidays, the anniversary of his passing, etc on his grave. When I turned 18 I moved 6-7 hours away and could no longer do this. So, I got my first tattoo – A red rose wrapped around an ornate cross on my back – a way to carry him with me wherever I go. It’s for this reason I carried a red rose bouquet at my wedding, like I had him there with me.

    1. I waited to get my big shoulder piece because my last corporate job before I started working from home would have been appalled by it. They had a mini freak out about the wrist tat when I got it and whether or not I could cover it in the office – It says ‘You are enough’ with a dragonfly…. Not sure why that’s so horribly offensive

  4. This is such an interesting read, Britt. I agree with you, tattoos are getting more and more common these days, it is less common to find people who don’t have them lol. I don’t have any myself (I can never decide what I want) but maybe one day! Tattoos can be so beautiful and meaningful and tell part of someones story , I love that they are becoming more widely accepted in society <3 xx

    Bexa |

    1. They are such a beautiful form of self-expression. I have made it my personal mission to normalize the conversation and help break through the stereotypes that we continue to face today

  5. It’s crazy that tattoos are a problem, it doesn’t effect everyone’s ability to do the job. It’s great that more people are becoming accepting. I have one small one, it has never been a problem for my company. Plenty of people have tattoos and sleeves and they do not care. Wish is refreshing. Thank you for sharing x

    1. I’m glad you have found a company that has embraced the truth. You’re right, having tattoos doesn’t impact a person’s ability to perform their job. It’s nothing more than an old stereotype that society struggles to let go of

  6. As a woman I find people have a bigger problem with me having tattoos than with men, my boyfriend and I both have the same amount yet I’m the one told not to get anymore. As someone who’s always loved tattoos, rock music, and dark clothes people think it’s “not lady like” and that I should be feminine because “boys don’t like that” but it’s my body and my life, I wouldn’t want to be with someone who doesn’t accept me for me, and also obviously alternative people are attracted to other alternative people. Work doesn’t care that I have tattoos, lots of staff do including managers who are also women. There’s still a stigma but thankfully not as much as before

    1. This is so true! My husband and I both have tattoos (although one could argue I have more and the blue hair adds to the stigma) but I get FAR more negative comments than he does. I’ve also had people warn me about how it makes me less feminine to which I often reply “Good thing I already roped one in with this whole marriage thing before REALLY throwing my feminine side out the window, huh?”

  7. I didn’t tell my boss I was getting a tattoo and to start with she was not happy about it. It’s not offensive in any way and although on my wrist, it’s usually covered up by my uniform. She has since said it looks nice.

    1. It’s amazing how quick people are to jump to the negative connotations and impressions without even stopping to consider whether the tattoo is actually offensive in any way. I mean, I could understand if you were to walk into work with a curse word emblazoned for all to see lol

  8. I’m a theatre actress and so I’m in an industry where if you don’t look a certain way you’re less likely to get a job. I recently died my hair pink and instantly thought about the prospects of my jobs and whether it meant I’d be out of work! When I got a tiny tat on the back of my elbow, my parents instantly thought I’d ended my career!! I agree that society still has a long way to go but it’s great that little by little people have started to accept them more widely!

    1. See, there are so many great, believable wigs out there that even in your line of work I don’t believe anything ‘alternative’ should sway people from giving you a role. I occasionally play with the military band where my blue hair would be a HUGE no no, so I have a brunette wig for it.

  9. very interesting read.
    Most people I know have tattoos actually, and they aren’t exactly alternative people. Just your normal everyday people. I got my tattoo as a present from my parents the year I turned 28, and while it is on my upper arm I can cover it with most clothes, though I’ve never had any problem with needing to do that.

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