STUDY: Ink Discrimination Erased

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“And the tapestry here on my skin
Is a map of the victories I win.”

For HR professionals who also happen to be parents, no doubt you’ve heard those lyrics from Maui, a character from Disney’s Moana.  Maui is, of course, referring to the tattoos he has and the story the ink tells of his life’s exploits.

Courtesy:  Disney

If Maui walked in for a job interview, would the tattoos increase his chances of getting the job, decrease his chances, or not impact his chances at all?

A new study indicates it may not be an issue.  At least, not any more.

The study was conducted by University of Miami professors Michael French, Karoline Mortensen, and University of Western Australia professor Andrew Timming.  They interviewed more than 2,000 people representing all U.S. states.  In the study, they asked each person about their tattoos, earnings, and employment status.  Based on the results, the three professors concluded that ink doesn’t play a role in the hiring process.

“Not only are the wages and annual earnings of tattooed employees in the United States statistically indistinguishable from the wages and annual earnings of employees without tattoos, but tattooed individuals are also just as likely and in some instances even more likely, to gain employment,” the study states.

So, what’s changed?

It wasn’t too long-ago tattoos were still considered taboo.  In fact, most inked job candidates worried their tattoos would hinder their chances of landing gainful employment. 

Professor French, who has four tattoos of his own and is planning to get more, believes the culture has shifted away from being taboo to one of normalcy and acceptance.

“The popularity is forcing employers to accept tattoos,” French told the Miami Herald.  “Tattoos are so common that if you disqualify candidates because of them, you’re going to be in a worse position because you’re missing out on talent.”

Research Conduct

The professors conducted their research online, but admit, the online survey isn’t bulletproof.  Since the program requires respondents to sign up online, it is possible to skew the results.  For example, 64% of the study’s respondents were women the Miami Herald reported.

The study also failed to consider specific industries.  French said it is entirely possible white-collar workers are less willing to accept tattoos than blue-collar workers.


While this study does indicate ink discrimination is a thing of the past, it fails to answer significant questions.  Some include:

  • Are all tattoos regardless of content acceptable in the workplace?
  • How much ink is too much?
  • Should there be an expectation on the amount of ink that is visible to customers?

The answers to these questions and others depend on the employer and what they consider appropriate based on their business, clients, employer branding, and their talent acquisition and recruitment strategies.

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