Commentary, Opinion

Employable, inkless personas

Whether by feigning confidence in an interview or embellishing responsibilities on a resumé, people often present an enhanced version of themselves to prospective employers. Many industries, like law and finance, maintain conservative hiring practices that pressure prospective employees to craft an inauthentic personal presentation by covering tattoos or piercings and keeping hair dyed a traditional colour. Conservative hiring practices not only discriminate on irrelevant grounds, but they also compel people with non-conforming styles into obscuring aspects of their identity, alienating them from their genuine selves.

Companies hire candidates who they believe will be most capable of executing a job, and this includes assessing someone’s character for traits like respect and a sense of responsibility. Being impolite or reckless, for example, can show that someone lacks the moral character of a good employee. However, choices like enjoying expressive fashion or body art do not relate to moral character or employability. Nevertheless, a 2018 survey of hiring managers shows that applicants with tattoos were offered lower starting salaries than those without body art, and applicants with obvious and eye-catching tattoos were less likely to be hired at all. A 2017 study published in the journal Human Resources Management found that respondents rated images of tattooed people as eight per cent less employable than those without.

The bias against tattoos stems from antiquated stereotypes about people with body art. When tattoos first popped up in contemporary North American culture in the late 19th century, they were common among criminals and sailors, and, therefore, became associated with ostracized people. While tattoos have entered the mainstream in recent decades, some employers still view applicants with body art as uneducated, unintelligent or promiscuous, and setting a bad example. These same antiquated stereotypes extend to other forms of expression like non-traditionally coloured hair and piercings.

Moreover, even if employers themselves are unfazed by these forms of expression, they may argue that they need to hire employees with a clean-cut style to appeal to clients. If employers continue to let a prejudiced clientele shape their standards, hiring practices will remain in a rut. When the workforce tells people that their piercings or sleeve of tattoos makes them unworthy of a pay cheque, it enforces the idea that only people who fit into a traditional mould are respectable members of society, thus advancing the authority of outdated ethical standards.

In addition to holding no moral ground, conservative hiring practices separate people from their authentic selves. The more someone conceals their persona in the workplace, the harder it is for them to feel in touch with their identity during the day. Having to hide forms of personal expression urges an unnecessary suppression of individuality and can lead people to feel ashamed of who they are. This shame can easily trickle into one’s personal life, making them resent or discredit the forms of expression they would otherwise appreciate.

In recent decades, industries have made steps toward creating spaces for authentic self-expression in the workplace. For example, many workplaces have begun relaxing their dress codes and letting employees wear jeans instead of suits and pencil skirts, while more progressive fields like media and tech have also begun accepting tattoos and piercings. These changes allow people more freedom in expressing themselves. However, the work force still needs to improve its acceptance of all identities. Denying someone a job based on anachronistic conceptions of morality is unacceptable. Employers have the influence to redefine which identities are worthy of income; industries must move away from only hiring candidates that fit into a traditional framework  and start accepting more lifestyles and forms of expression as employable.

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