As we go about our hustle and bustle, we often encounter a wide array of people and personalities—one of the appeals of living in L.A. is its diversity, after all. Whether it’s lawyers with purple-frosted hair or medics with sleeve tattoos, we see and accept the social kaleidoscope at face value, even in the workplace.
For decades in the U.S. there’s been a long-standing stigma regarding tattoos and the people who sport them. Often associated with bartenders working at sleazy underground clubs, bikers raising Cain at 3 in the morning and dangerous, often violent drug scenes, tattoos became synonymous with the criminal element and are to this day red flags for shop owners and employers alike. Visible or not, the idea of going to a job interview with tattoos was a definite faux pas.
But as always, the times change.
With the shrinking Baby Boomer population, millennials are taking over as the primary consumer group. They have increased the number of people in the U.S. with tattoos, as well as the demand for their acceptance in the workplace. Approximately 40% of millenials have tattoos, with 70% of them claiming to have non-visible tattoos, while 25% reported having body or facial piercings.
Many places, however, ban or restrict tattoos by insisting they be covered up. Restrictions aside, tattoos still harbor a negative stigma among job recruiters and hiring managers and force many candidates to the bottom of the pile.
Colorado State University professor of management Chris Henle and her team recently published a paper in the Journal of Business and Psychology exploring how women with tattoos are viewed and even discriminated against by hiring managers and supervisors.
“We were shocked at how hard it is to overcome discrimination based on tattoos,” Henle says. “We really thought we could find a point at which hiring managers could move past it, but we didn’t get to that point.”
“Many places, however, ban or restrict tattoos by insisting they be covered up. Restrictions aside, tattoos still harbor a negative stigma among job recruiters and hiring managers and force many candidates to the bottom of the pile.”
Henle’s team found that regardless of one’s background, education or experience, employers still held fast to traditional views on tattoos — an issue that, the Colorado State researchers say, rests squarely with those doing the hiring.
“Really, we need to start focusing on the hiring managers and what they fixate on,” Henle says. “We might have to do some training with hiring managers and help them become aware of their biases. And not just body art, piercings or attire; it’s really appearance-based bias.”
Here in the Southland, we, fortunately, live in a more accepting and tolerant culture, with San Francisco and L.A. listed as two of the most tatted cities in the U.S. We often see nurses, lawyers and other working professionals with some color on their forearms or even their necks. But Cali can do even better.
“Really, we need to start focusing on the hiring managers and what they fixate on. We might have to do some training with hiring managers and help them become aware of their biases. And not just body art, piercings or attire; it’s really appearance-based bias.”
— Chris Henle, management professor at Colorado State University
In 2010, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that tattoos were protected under the First Amendment as freedom of expression. This decision, however, came as a result of discriminatory policies by the City of Hermosa Beach, which decided to impose a ban on all tattoo shops citing health concerns over the tattooing process. The 9th Circuit Court didn’t accept this claim, citing that the act of tattooing was as much part of the artistic expression within the tattoo, and the health risks were considered nominal. The impact of Anderson v. Hermosa verberates across the Southland to this day.
While SoCal may boast of being amicable toward tattoos, employers can still choose not to hire someone based on their ink. However, their acceptance, whether voluntary or not, seems inevitable with growing social tolerance coupled with how common tattoos have become. With inked role models like Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau, and recognition of tattooing as an art form, Los Angelenos can lead the way to a more tolerant, enlightened future.