Musings & Life Tattoos

Tattoos In The Workplace

Haute Tattoos Vogue

The past little while has been pretty busy. I’ve been juggling my full time job, blogging, and working with Tattoo Hero in the evenings and weekends.

It’s been interesting rocking both corporate and startup life simultaneously. As of late I’ve been feeling a bit split up, like I have a secret identity. And the fact that I’m wearing Clark Kent-esque glasses now is only adding to the effect.

With news in Ottawa that three Convention Centre Employees were locked out from work because they refused to hide their tattoos under long sleeves, had the Tattoo Hero team springing into action.

Our official stance – the ability to do ones job is not dependent on an individuals physical appearance. And that the focus should be on ones performance, not their tattoos.

Steven Meisel Vogue Italia - Tattoo Patterns

The open letter we wrote from Tattoo Hero to the Ottawa Convention Centre on Locked Out Tattooed Employees was picked up by local media and seems to have resonated with many in the tattoo community. Our co-founder Steve Tannahill did the rounds of interviews with CBC Ottawa Morning, Metro Ottawa and The Ottawa Citizen giving voice to our thoughts on the matter.

Unfortunately, the Ottawa Convention Centre are standing their ground on the issue.

Because of these recent events I’ve been thinking a lot about tattoos in the workplace, and how I personally handle this being quite heavily tattooed myself. For years I’ve had the luxury of working in very creative, open environments in large cities – usually within the dotcom industry and always as part of a MarCom team.

For the most part I have not been client/customer facing, with the exception of working in a record store at one point, where if anything my tattoos were a positive in that role.

I have though had to conduct business and attend meetings with people from all walks of life though, from dealing with vendors to reporting to senior exec teams and COO’s, often with my tattoos visible.

Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia 2007

And in all that time, my tattoos were never an issue in the workplace.

In fact, when I started at Disney for the first few months I covered up only for the team I worked with to tease me for doing so when it was discovered I had tattoos.

It’s disheartening then, but not surprising that there still exists such a stigma surrounding tattoos and whether an inked individual can be considered “professional”, when I’ve experienced a career for the most part free from this.

Haute Couture Tattoos

I remember asking the question “What are your thoughts on whether a person should hide their tattoos when coming in for an interview?” of Doug Tetzner, Shopify’s head of talent acquisition last summer during one of the lightening talks held by HackerYou.

Tetzner’s response: Don’t hide them. Shopify are interested in the individual as a whole – tattoos and all.

It was an incredibly refreshing viewpoint to hear, especially from an HR head. Shopify, sadly are not the norm, but change comes through small wins. And if an expanding and renowned company like Shopify are progressive in their hiring and work environment it’s a step in the right direction that will help to bring change to other places of work.

And myself? Do I go into interviews with my sleeve or chest tattoos visible? My nose ring in?

To be absolutely honest, no I don’t.

Perhaps this is why I haven’t experienced discrimination in the workplace due to my tattoos. Because I tested the waters first before any reveal, and by that time people had gotten a chance to get to know me and my work first.

Tattoos in Vogue

And because prejudice still exists about how one should look in the workplace, I am cautious with my outward appearance – so no “job stoppers” for me (eg. neck tattoos, finger tattoos anything you can’t cover with long sleeves and slacks). I don’t have the financial luxury to scratch off hundreds of potential employers from my list because I can’t walk in with my Octopus tattoo out at an interview.

I accept this, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s right. Not at all.

I equally don’t go into an interview dressed in a Tee Fury t-shirt and jeans, and I’ll straighten my super curly hair because it tends to look more “smart”. My glasses? Ya I’ll wear those. I only need them when using a computer or staring at the TV playing too much PS3 – but I add them to my interview ensemble because, I feel like they make me look more “professional”. And that’s exactly it right there – I “look“.

Anyone can look professional. Have a hot shower and throw on a suit. There you’re a businessman. That says absolutely nothing about your intelligence level, your work ethic, your actual skill set or professionalism.

Meisel Vogue Italia Patterns

Looking the part is one thing, but can you actually play the role demanded of you?

I’ve met many slick looking businessmen and women that oozed an outward facade of professionalism but were nothing of the sort – incompetent, uneducated, slime-balls masquerading as business wizards. (Mind you business wizards sounds kinda cool, like “Harry Potter and the Wolf of Wall Street” or something.)

Since moving to a small town, I’ve been a lot more conscious of my tattoos. That’s not to say that people don’t have them here, because they do in droves, they’re just not apparent in an office environment. My new job is great – I walk to work, my team is awesome, everyone is really friendly and we do have a relaxed dress code.

Tattoo Inspired Vogue Shoot

I choose to keep my tattoos at work covered up however. Though I know it would never be grounds for dismissal at my current job, it’s my personal choice and preference none the less (for one thing the office is uber air conditioned and I’m freezing at the best of times!)

And with that said it should also be the choice of the Ottawa Convention Centre employees.

They all wore the standard uniform required of them, but were asked to wear long sleeves underneath to hide their tattoos.

This was not a choice – either do so or be prepared not to work.

And yes it can be argued that it’s the policy for this place of business to “remain neutral”, and that the employees in question were aware of this when they signed their contracts. But it doesn’t mean we should just accept these policies without questioning and really examining the “why” behind them. Especially as the Ottawa Convention Centre is a publicly funded facility and not just a private business.

Tattoos in Vogue Italia

For change to take effect sometimes one does have to break the rules which are in place, to really begin to address the issues at hand.

 Are you tattooed? Has being so affected your work life?

Image Credits: “Vogue Patterns”, Vogue Italia December 2007
Photographer: Steven Meisel
Models: Hanne-Gaby Odiele, Kinga Rajzak, Lara Stone, Maryna Linchuk, Meghan Colliso Maryna Linchuk, Meghan Colliso

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