Over the past few months, tattoos have been a hot topic; engineer Andy Jones went viral after a client refused to pay his invoice simply due to his tattooed appearance, coach Lea Turner turned LinkedIn into InkedIn, by encouraging people to post pictures of their permanent artwork along with captions of their profession or stories of their experiences.  

    And as I mentioned in my piece in June on this topic, Virgin Atlantic became the first airline in the UK to allow visible tattoos.

    I’m fairly used to the financial services profession being somewhat trapped in the dark ages, so the experiences I’ve had as a tattooed woman haven’t really come as a shock to me (or to others reading my story).

    However, when I was up in Verve HQ last month, I was utterly gobsmacked to hear about the experiences my lovely colleague ‘Dev Mike’ has had in the tech industry.  

    On the surface, the tech industry has always appeared to be more youthful, accepting and in keeping with the modern world, especially when compared to the finance sector, but after speaking to Mike and reading about the experiences of many other people, I can see that this is a wider reaching issue than I ever imagined.

    Here is his story…

    “For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved tattoos. I grew up with a grandmother who had traditional tattoos, with different meanings attached to them. I would point them out and ask for the story behind each and every one. These are such happy memories for me and compelled me to get my own traditional tattoos as soon as I was old enough to.

    “Since my early teens, I strived to become a developer and have worked in the tech industry for around 8 years. Anyone thinking about the kind of person who works in software development will have the image in their head of someone sitting in the dark with headphones on, coding away. While this is a bit of a stereotype, it was fitting for my first few years in the industry and, as a result, meant that my tattoos were never an issue for me.

    “Fast forward to March 2020 when Covid broke, the world was turned upside down and I was made redundant. I was fortunate enough (or so I thought!) to find another job and I spent the first few weeks working from home. During this period, I settled into the role well and got some great feedback. I made full use of Zoom, interacting with my new boss and colleagues from the shoulders up.

    “When it was announced that people could return to the workplace, I headed into the office to meet my new colleagues in the flesh. A few hours later, I was called into a room and told that it wasn’t working out. My new boss actually told me that my appearance wasn’t ‘the right image’ for his company. It dawned on me that during my interview and first few weeks, people could only see the parts of me that weren’t inked.  

    “When I was presented to my boss in all my colourful glory, he decided that my image wasn’t a suitable representation of his company. Sorrywhatnow?! I had spent weeks doing a great job, getting positive feedback and getting on really well… a few hours in the office, in person, and I was getting the sack. Truly an unacceptable and unforgettable experience that will stay with me for life.”

    I hope you’re as shocked as I was when I heard this

    I’m astounded that people still think having tattoos makes a person less capable of doing a job. So, just to clear this up for everyone, here some facts on the subject:

    • Ink doesn’t run into our brains causing us to become unable to perform tasks. We’re quite capable of doing our jobs even if we are ‘colourful’.  
    • How we look doesn’t dictate our professionalism; how we conduct ourselves does.
    • Deciding to decorate our bodies with artwork or commemorate a loved one in the form of a permanent reminder doesn’t make us reckless; it makes us sentimental, compassionate, cultured.
    • Treating someone differently because of the way the look is discrimination – this includes people who choose to adorn themselves with ink, metal, bright hair or whatever.  
    • Yes ‘thugs’ have tattoos, but so do some of the kindest, gentlest people I know and guess what? There are ‘thugs’ who don’t have tattoos too (shocker)!

    Now I know I’m being a bit controversial here and many people will think “yeah, well obviously” to the above points, but the fact remains that in 2022, when there are a huge percentage of people who are ‘different’, there are also people who think it’s okay to withhold payment from someone because of how they look.  

    I urge everyone reading this who may disagree with me to open their minds just for a second and consider this issue: if we replace the word ‘tattoo’ with ‘red shoes’ – you may not consider them personally to your taste, or ‘suitable’ for the workplace – but would you fire someone over them?  

    Hearing these stories and sharing these experiences has really brought home how stuck in the dark ages some people are. The oldest evidence of tattoos dates back to 3370 BC – they aren’t a new thing. Surely, over that massive expanse of time there has been a period where tattoos haven’t caused such controversy? Things almost certainly go in cycles, so I wonder if we’re on our way back round to acceptance.  

    And if we get to that point, what can we do to stop it happening again? I don’t have the answers, but what I do have is a voice and I intend to use it to do all I can to get the message across… tattoos shouldn’t be taboo!

    Today's Illuminate was co-authored by Michael Watts

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