Tattoos in the workplace: is the taboo fading?

08 October 2015 -


New research has found that the majority of UK workers think people with tattoos or piercings will face discrimination in the workplace. But with nearly half of workers having already gone under the needle, could ink soon become a more common sight in the office?

Matt Scott

More than half (59%) of UK workers think people with tattoos and piercings (excluding standard ear piercings) will face slower career progression as a result of their body modifications, according to new research from CV-Library.

 This is despite 44% of the UK’s workforce admitting to having tattoos and 32% of workers having non-standard piercings.


The news comes after London welcomed the world’s biggest tattoo convention, with more than 20,000 tattoo enthusiasts flocking to Tobacco Dock in East London for the 11th Annual International London Tattoo Convention to watch great artists at work and even go under the needle themselves (see right).

Amy Bull, who now works in digital marketing, told Insights how she has previously faced discrimination at work in a previous job as an assistant manager in a health and beauty retailer because of her tattoos.

“I was quite covered up when I had my interview, but when I started working there people started noticing my tattoos and it was apparent that my manager didn’t approve,” she said. “I remember feeling uncomfortable because she was questioning me in ways that were purposefully making me feel uncomfortable about my tattoos; it was very judgmental. She would undermine me in front of other staff and that led to an unproductive and toxic atmosphere.

“In the end I had to go above my manager’s head and start working towards a promotion through that new relationship. If I hadn’t made that move I would not have progressed [in my career at that retailer].”

And this fear of discrimination and having career progression impeded is leading some people to cover up their tattoo artwork while working.

Over two-thirds (34%) of those with tattoos surveyed by CV-Library said they had covered up their tattoos deliberately for a job interview, and 15% said they had been made to feel uncomfortable at work.

But covering up her ink was not an option for Claire Shepherd, whose intricate hand tattoo led to her being fired just 30 minutes after being offered her dream job because her new company said visible tattoos in general could be ‘offensive’.

Shepherd was later offered her job back after a backlash against the company on social media, and with more and more people going under the needle every year, wider attitudes towards tattoos and other body modifications could be changing.

Bull told Insights that, as the taboo around tattoos is removed, people are becoming more accepting of tattooed employees in the workplace and that this could help companies increase their talent pool.

“I started getting tattooed 10 years ago, and back then it wasn’t that common to be heavily tattooed,” she said. “Now, most things are more positive. There now seems to be more women with tattoos and it is becoming more accepted, especially in the workplace; it is not as taboo and shocking as it used to be.

“[People who do discriminate against tattooed workers] could be doing themselves a disservice and missing out on creatively thinking people. People really think about their tattoos and don’t just get one on a whim. If they can apply that thinking to something personal, what’s to say they can’t apply that in a professional setting?”

Some people are even managing to take tattoo acceptance to the next level, and are using their tattoos to help them in their jobs. Amber Shipp is an American maths teacher who uses mathematical tattoos on her forearms and neck to inspire her students.

By integrating the tattoos into her lessons she is able to grab the attention of students who don’t normally concentrate in the classroom. Sometimes the children broach the subject of her tattoos, and other times she uses it as a means of introduction. “Either way the kids get pumped,” she said.

Shipp said that acting in a positive way helps remove the stereotype that often faces those with tattoos: “If I am a kind, caring, and productive member of society, why does my ink matter?”.

Images courtesy of Andrew Gorton Photography and Shutterstock

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