Are tattoos still taboo? Stigma vs. Body Art in the Workplace | Opinion
Body art as a form of self-expression is on the rise in the United States, and many companies are asking their staff to cover tattoos as an act of professionalism. For a student at Bowling Green State University, she was asked exactly that.
Jess Oberski, a freshman journalism major, applied to be a baker for BGSU Dining Services at the Oaks. After sending in her initial application, she went to their office to complete additional paperwork. There she was first given the company dress policy.
In an email from Laurie Konrad, BGSU Dining Services Senior of Human Resources, their policy requires coverage of offensive tattoos. For piercings, only studs or small hoops are allowed for security reasons. Finally, the policy allows colored hair, but all hair must be tied back to meet safety requirements.
As per policy, Oberski was told she would have to remove all eight of her piercings and cover her small tattoo on her wrist, which is done in Morse code.
The stringency of their policies surprised Oberski, who once worked in food service.
“It was never a big deal,” she said, “I was a waitress for a summer and I never had any issues with my tattoos or my piercings or my hair. I would just wear a hat or a hairnet. It was completely different from the way I worked before.
Melissa Davis, human resources manager for the DHL area of Campbell’s Soup Supply Company in Findlay, explained how stigma in the workplace has changed over the course of her career.
“When I was at Pepsi 20 years ago, when we were looking to hire truck drivers, piercings and tattoos were banned,” she said.
Davis shared a story about mirrors placed near doors for road drivers. These mirrors were placed to remind drivers to look at their appearance before leaving company grounds.
Davis remembers the mirrors carrying a quote along the lines of “Look at it, did you meet the Pepsi standard?”
Now, as a new generation of workers enters companies, Davis has noticed that the harsh stigma behind body art is fading, which Beth Miller, deputy director of the BGSU Career Center, has also noticed.
“I think it’s great for this generation. I think they’re moving into a much more tolerant, flexible and diverse workplace across multiple sectors, and I think the concern that that [body art] is not as prevalent as if you went back five or 10 years ago,” she said.
Miller discussed the issue of body art in the workplace from the perspective of the interviewee and the interviewer.
“We are always clear that we never want individuals to change who they are or how they represent themselves. However, we are addressing the reality of recruiting,” she said.
That reality is having to navigate ever-changing standards regarding body art in the workplace. Although many companies are relaxing their policies regarding ink, piercings, and colored hair in the office, others are not.
For this reason, Miller strongly encourages students to research a company’s dress code policy before an interview. This research can help students determine if a company’s culture matches their style and values.
She recommends looking for images on the company’s website and social media pages and calling the company to ask about their body art policy directly.
“You have to decide, ‘Do I give up on this idea of working there because I don’t want to compromise so much, or do I find another place that will suit me better. And sometimes it’s the decisions you have to make,” Miller said.