In the past few decades, the popularity of tattoos has become as permanent of a presence in the workplace as it is on the body of its owner.
Phyllis Farquhar, the owner of Sketch Burger in Fishtown, created a restaurant where creativity is condoned. From the walls to the arms of employees, the building is covered in unique artwork.
“I hire employees with tattoos because I know our demographic of customer, and we have tattooed customers,” Farquhar said. “We’re a very casual restaurant – we take our food seriously and we welcome everyone.”
According to statistics published by the American Medical Association in 2012, the tattoo industry generates $2.3 billion annually and 21 percent of Americans have tattoos.
Although many workplaces approve of tattoos, not all of the business world is as accepting.
Linda Lawton, the associate director of the Career Center at Temple, said appearance plays a large role in the hiring process.
“Businesses word things very carefully,” Lawton said. “They won’t come out and say, ‘We won’t hire you because of tattoos.’ In a conservative company culture, businesses often look for neat appearances – those who will not generate any concern.”
Statistics compiled by Careerbuilder.com support Lawton’s claim. The website says 42 percent of managers agreed their opinion of a potential employee would be lowered by visible body art. And according to The Patient’s Guide, a website consisting of 25 publications centering on skincare, the tattoo removal industry has experienced a 32 percent increase in the past year.
“I definitely think [tattoos] affect your career path negatively,” said Nicholas Eldering, a senior economics major. “I think most people look at them as a youthful, reckless consideration – somebody who doesn’t look very far into the future.”
The aspect of tattoos that raise concern is rooted in the history of an America with a different culture. In the 1950s and ‘60s, tattoos gained popularity with groups like biker gangs, but also generated a negative connotation.
This notion created a hurdle American society has not yet been able to clear – the unacceptable nature of visible tattoos in a professional environment. There is a large generational gap between the CEOs of companies, the hiring managers and the business professionals who hold onto the negative connotation of society’s tattooed past, and the members of the younger generation who view ink as an artistic expression.
“The problem with tattoos is the generation shift,” said Alex Melonas, a political science professor and Ph.D. candidate at Temple who has visible tattoos. “At certain levels, it’s different. I don’t ever think that someone like the chair of a department would ever have a sleeve and show it.”
Melonas is an example of how times have changed. Temple hired the longstanding professor with knowledge of his tattoos.
“My ability to exist as a professional with tattoos is simply the nature of academia,” Melonas said. “This is one of the last places where you can have a little bit of freedom in your job – not a lot – but some.”
Lawton encourages students with tattoos to make a strategy to influence hiring decisions.
“Get hired and become invaluable,” Lawton said. “Set precedents [as an employee with tattoos] so that those under you are open to new opportunities.”
The possibility of obtaining a career with tattoos is not impossible – there are numerous opportunities for the inked population. The business world seems to have not yet made the shift but others have. Depending on the industry, having tattoos may even help with an individual’s career path.
“My interaction with students has been possibly lubricated because my tattoos suggest I’m more approachable,” Melonas said. “They make me seem less standard, more interesting. However, as the authority I must be aware of credibility and not appear too approachable. In the back of my mind, the credibility factor is there, because we always have to perform within the standard of our career.”
The growing trend of tattoos may keep big businesses at bay for now, but students have hope that the stigma will turn around in the future.
“By the time that we all grow up, as you might say, I think a lot of us will be in power and in places where you wouldn’t expect people to be covered in tattooed at all,” said Mark Rossmair, senior information science and technology major.
Brianna Spause can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.