As a first-year student, I wrote a column entitled, "Professionalism comes at cost of personal expression, freedom," in which I discussed an identity crisis I was grappling with at the time — one that I still wrestle with to this day. At the time, I was a student at Rutgers Business School considering a major in marketing, supply chain management or finance accompanied by an English major.
Well, a lot has changed since then. For the upcoming fall semester, I will be a student in the School of Arts and Sciences with solely an English major and a minor in business administration. But I still struggle with the dichotomy between upholding professionalism and preserving my creative expression.
I still worry about a future employer judging me based on visible tattoos or piercings I may choose to get or controversial articles that they may find online under my name. In my original column, I concluded that it is unfair that traditional standards of professionalism seem to suppress key aspects of creative freedom.
In this particular piece, I want to focus on the role of piercings and tattoos in affecting workplace first impressions and what a possible solution could look like. Even though people will argue that "times are changing" and certain companies are more accepting of tattoos and piercings, there is still a long-held stigma toward both forms of body art.
Seventy percent of people still feel that visible tattoos are unprofessional and could hurt someone's job prospects. Furthermore, a CareerBuilder survey found that 37 percent of employers said they would be less likely to promote a candidate with a body piercing.
This could be due to a few different factors. Some workplace environments are physically dangerous, such as construction sites, and piercings could present safety risks. Some industries do not allow visible tattoos across the board, including many airlines.
But some factors are rooted in clear societal stigma, and this kind of judgment can manifest itself in strict dress codes, likely due to customer-facing roles such as sales representatives.
Now, why is this problematic? For one, logically, it makes no sense to judge someone based on body art. Piercings and tattoos say nothing about a person's intellect, work ethic, specialized skills and ultimately how well they can do their job.
Not only do I think it is ethically wrong for a company to discriminate against someone based on their body art, but it is also a detrimental mistake on the company's side. Companies are actively turning away talent by dismissing someone or overlooking their talent because they have a visible piercing or tattoo.
Additionally, studies show that companies benefit from fostering a diverse workplace in perspective and background, and someone who expresses themselves creatively through body art could be a valuable asset to this kind of inclusivity.
People may argue that it is a company's loss to prohibit visible piercings and tattoos, but I do not think we should remain complacent with this mindset.
I think all employers need to get with the times, and as humans, I think we have a duty to constantly reflect upon ourselves, our perspectives and why we believe what we do. As a society, it is a disservice to not only ourselves but also those around us when we do not actively engage in this kind of continuous reflection, especially if someone is in a position of power.
If an employer thinks that a visible piercing or tattoo could be distracting, or worse, trashy, they need to ask themselves why they think this way. Why do you think body art is so distracting or trashy? You may think that a tattoo or piercing says more about the person wearing them, but in reality, your perception of them reveals something about you.
We should be more concerned with people feeling comfortable enough to be authentic. Instead of cringing at the number of tattoos someone has, people should be more accepting of them, indifferent to them, or better yet, curious about them.
I am currently interning at a company this summer and have seen many people at work have piercings and tattoos, which has given me hope. There are companies out there that are accepting, and it has made me more comfortable with expressing myself through body art.
Due to the widespread statistics, I still fear being judged for any visible piercings or tattoos, which I think is a silly fear to have at this point. A job candidate should be evaluated based on skill and qualifications, not appearance.
Sure, someone should not wear a T-shirt to a job interview, but someone should not feel that they do not have the liberty to obtain body art. But what is the solution?
Companies need to create dress code policies that do not prohibit personal creative expression, such as piercings and tattoos. Though it is fine to uphold standards such as formal dress wear, dress code policies should not infringe upon someone's personal liberty regarding body art.
It should not be on individuals to seek out a select number of accepting companies when all companies have the ability to contribute to a more accepting environment that encourages people to show up as themselves.
Sara Eschleman is the opinions editor of The Daily Targum.
*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.
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