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Tattoos not always welcome in the workplace

Samantha Monterrey - January 30, 2013

Senior Covina Dunnihoo has a Bible verse tattooed on her right forearm, Psalm 91:16, that she says reminds her daily of how she lives her life for the Lord. On her left wrist is a tattoo that says “sisters” with a heart design.

While at a career fair, she was wearing a three-quarter sleeve top that revealed her tattoos.

An employer at the fair told her, “I respect everything your tattoos stand for, but I would personally never hire you unless you’d be willing to cover them up. Our company policy [tolerates] none of that.”

Dunnihoo responded by saying, “as someone who would be pursuing a job with you, I would have to respect that.”

That experience motivated Dunnihoo to organize a workshop for Career Services on Feb. 21.

According to Dunnihoo, the workshop will have a panel of about four to five employers from different fields.

Career Services has been providing students with advice on how their tattoos and piercings will affect their post-college careers by keeping students informed of policy changes in the current job market.

“Professional environments are still very conservative,” said Vicki Sannuto, interim director of Career Services. “They will ask you to take off piercings and cover up your tattoos.”

According to Sannuto, students need to take into consideration how the tattoos or piercings students are getting are going to affect them in the future when they search for employment opportunities.

It varies with different fields, Sannuto added.

The education field, for example, is very strict about visible tattoos and extreme piercings,as well as business fields.

“Accounting companies are very conservative,” Sannuto said. “I don’t think you can have extra-visible piercings and you have to cover up your tattoos for sure.”

According to Sannuto, in the international workplace, policies regarding tattoos and body piercings are even more strict. Japanese companies, for example, are completely against tattoos.

Other countries have serious prejudices about tattoos and piercings, Sannuto said.

She doesn’t think a lot of people recognize this until they’re in that situation.

“You also have to understand how [tattoos/piercings] are going to affect working in a global society,” Sannuto said.

As a peer advisor for Career Services, Covina was asked last year to speak on a panel concerning tattoo culture, hosted by the Center for Diversity and Social Justice.

“You know, that was a really cool experience,” Dunnihoo said. “I got to share my personal and professional thoughts on tattoos.

“I’m sure more students have this question: What do I do? How do I navigate professionalism while having something I consider artistic expression?”

Dunnihoo said it is important to raise awareness about tattoos and piercings in the workplace.
“They are becoming more and more prevalent,” Dunnihoo said.

According to the PR Daily website, a 2010 Pew Research Center study titled, “Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next,” 38 percent of millennials (ages 18-29) have at least one tattoo.

The study found that millennials often fail to remember that those hiring them may be from a different generation.

Thus, some of employers may look at tattoos as unacceptable in the workplace.

Junior Justin Lee, ITAM major, said he didn’t give future employers a second thought when he got his first tattoo.

“I just wanted one really bad,” he said.

He has since gotten two more and said he sometimes has to cover them up for the baseball team he coaches.

Gena Irwin, freshman biology major said she opted to get her tattoo on her wrist.

“I thought of somewhere that if I wanted to I could show it off, and if I didn’t I could cover it up,” Irwin said. “More people are getting them, so the workplace should be more lenient.”

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