3 Ways to Navigate Corporate Life with (Visible) Tattoos

(Or, My Thoughts After Reading Tatt-do or Tatt-don't by Lauren Maxwell, Leaders in Heels)

Of course my first official blog entry is in response to an article about tattoos. Why would it be anything else?

Yes, my goal for this blog is to address cool or noteworthy FinTech/Retail news and trends, but at the core, it’s an outlet for me to reach out and connect with others that share the same interests and who may have to have the same internal monologues and debates I have as they try to figure everything out. That means if there’s a topic beyond retail or tech that I find thought provoking, I’m going to write about it.  

So, tattoos and work.

The whole show-or-hide debate has raged on in my head for the past year. I’ve been preparing for graduation, which means doing some serious soul searching. And for me, a part of that was—

What restrictions or dress code could I live or not live with?

In the beginning of my internship/job search, I was willing to hide it all. I attended interviews in the middle of summer in slacks, a blazer, and scarf to hide every spot of ink. Except, my tattoos go to my wrist, so the second I reached out to shake someone’s hand,the interviewer would see my tattoos peeking out of my sleeve.

As my final year of grad school progressed, and I went through numerous interviews, the reality of needing to hide every tattoo every day started to hit me. I knew I needed to take the organizational culture of where I was applying into consideration. Maxwell mentions that she has a couple small tattoos, but, as someone that must take standalone steps to cover every tattoo; our perspectives are a bit different.

Over time I realized that if I was in a culture that didn’t accept me enough to accept me with some colors on my body, maybe it wasn’t going to be the best fit.

Maxwell writes “...we certainly shouldn’t be reducing ourselves down to just some strategic inking...” but for some, there’s so much more involved. Can I be comfortable if the AC breaks and am wearing short sleeves under a sweater? Do I always need to wear a scarf to cover a chest or neck piece, even if I’m just sitting at my computer all day with no meetings on the calendar? It's not just, "this is my quirky personality, accept it." It's about being able to just be comfortable in a basic sense.

But, how do I know my boss may not care about my tattoos during the normal 9-5 grind? It’s not like I’m going to show up with my tattoos fully on display, or even ask about it.

It's all about doing a little research.

What do the people look like on the company webpage? What about LinkedIn? Even if you don’t see tattoos or piercings immediately, things as basic as whether or not the employees are wearing jeans in lieu of slacks can give you a great deal of insight about the company culture. Something as simple as language used on the company site give an indication about the overall culture.

Respect. Earn it.

When I interviewed for my internship at the company where I now work, I knew it was pretty casual. I had a close connection there and had the details about what it was like. But when I met my future boss, I dressed appropriately and covered all of my tattoos. In fact, I was interning for over a month before I stopped actively trying to hide my tattoos. I gave it time. I waited until I had an understanding of the expectations and values, and I showed them what I could do. I earned respect in the workplace before asking for it.

Respect. Give it.

I was eventually hired as a salaried employee which meant I was going to start seeing clients who did not see me day-in and day-out. Not only was I representing myself at a client's office, I was representing the company. When my boss told me that I had to step up my game a bit beyond the normal everday-casual, I didn’t hesitate to agree. I understood completely.

I respect our clients enough to match their professional expectations. I trust my boss enough to believe he had a reason to explicitly run down the expectations with me, and he did. At one client’s office, I feel fine with my facial piercing, whereas I would never consider it at another office.

What about professional events like mixers and trainings?

Well, it depends.

I took my first business trip to an industry summit this year. I made it to day two before growing frustrated with feeling the pressure to hide my tattoos at all times. Ultimately, I’m glad I fell on the conservative side. I used all of my energy meeting people and taking in a whole new industry experience. I’m glad I didn’t waste energy trying to figure out if people were staring at me or judging me for having tattoos.

Every situation is different, but by doing a bit of research fostering respect, I've been able to develop a strong professional foundation without needing to constantly worry about my tattoos.