Well into the 20th century, tattoos were seen as the preserve of criminals and ‘deviants’. But in modern Britain, more women than ever are choosing to get inked – and if businesses allow old-fashioned prejudices to affect their hiring decisions, they could be missing out on top employees.
That’s according to new research by academics at King’s College London, which found that visible tattoos can still be a barrier to getting hired in many professions.
But the team behind the research, produced in collaboration with Acas, has warned that negative attitudes towards tattoos are outdated – and said that businesses should relax their rules against ink in the office if they want to bag the best employees.
Nearly a fifth of adults in the UK now have tattoos, according to a 2015 Yougov poll, and people under the age of 40 are significantly more likely to have at least one.
Jobs in the airline, accounting and emergency service industries were among those cited as being particularly tough on tattoos.
However, the research also identified some organisations where tattoos were often viewed positively – including bars and clubs, companies marketed towards younger people, and the creative industries.
Dr Andrew Timming, a management professor at St Andrews University who has researched the role of tattoos in hiring practices, predicted that attitudes will change as more and more people get tattoos.
“There’s a tidal wave of young people with tattoos these days and they’re not always going to be young,” he told the BBC. “Employers are going to have to accept that they're integral to the fabric of society and accept that they may potentially have a place at work.”
Timmins added that tattoos should be seen as a sign of original thinking.
“Isn’t that what employers are looking for these days? Someone who doesn’t always toe the line?” he asked. “Isn’t Richard Branson talking about disruptive talent in the workplace?
“This is the kind of person who would fit that bill, I would think.”