Can Tattoos Still Keep You From Getting a Job? According to This New Study… Yes

Dec 11, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. ET
Image: Pexels

By Georgene Huang

Imagine that you’re a hiring manager. You’re conducting interviews, and after reviewing the résumé of your next candidate, you’re feeling really excited to meet her. On paper, she seems to have all the necessary experience and skills.

Then, your office door opens — and in walks a woman with visible tattoos and pink hair.

What’s your first impression? Are you suddenly less interested in hiring her? Chances are, your age influences the way you answer these questions. Indeed, our latest research found that younger hiring professionals are more open to hiring women with less conventional appearances.

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In our survey, we showed hiring managers images of 15 different professional women. These women’s appearances varied in their attire, hairstyle, age, body size and race. We then asked participants to share their assessments of the candidates. In general, we found that younger respondents were much more accepting of the woman with visible tattoos than their older peers. This is, of course, great news for professional women who don’t have a necessarily cookie-cutter look and points to the hope that old biases may be becoming less relevant as millennials and those after them take over leadership positions.

And it isn’t just workplace biases against tattoos that, thanks to millennials, may be lifting. Here’s a look at what our data revealed:

Older women

If you’re over a certain age and have ever tried a career change, you know it’s difficult, as people tend to feel more enthusiastic toward young talent. Hiring managers who are older themselves, though, more than likely don’t buy into this same bias toward mature job seekers. Right? Interestingly, our study found that this isn’t always the case.

The survey included an image of an older woman with gray hair. Surprisingly, hiring professionals between ages 25 and 34 were actually much more likely to hire her (30 percent) than respondents over 54 (15.3 percent). Younger hiring managers were also more likely to describe the older woman as professional and leadership material — two of the top qualities hiring managers said were the most important when evaluating candidates. That data broke down as follows:

Hiring professionals between 25 and 34 who said the older candidate was:

  • Professional: 63.4 percent
  • Leadership material: 41 percent

Hiring professionals over 54 who said the older candidate was:

  • Professional: 61.5 percent
  • Leadership material: 23 percent

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Plus-size women

Many plus-size women (and women in general, really) worry people will automatically judge them by their size. Unfortunately, in the hiring process, they often do.

In our survey, the heavier-set candidate was more likely to be labeled “lazy.” Older respondents were the harshest assessors — of those aged 54 or older, 23 percent described her as lazy and only 7.7 percent said she was leadership material. In comparison, 21.7 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds said she was lazy and 18.9 percent described her as a leader.

Younger hiring professionals were also more likely to hire the plus-size woman. Only 7.7 percent of the oldest respondents would hire her, but 17.2 percent of the youngest would.

Tattooed women

Traditionally, people see women with tattoos as being unprofessional. But that is slowly changing. Hiring managers are learning that someone can have visible tattoos and still be a committed, respectable employee.

For instance, 53.8 percent of respondents who were 54 or older described our tattooed candidate as unprofessional. For that demographic, she ranked No. 1 for being unprofessional. However, only 37.5 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds said she was unprofessional.

Visible tattoos also affected this candidate’s hirability with the older hiring managers subset. Only 7.7 percent of these respondents would consider giving her the job, while almost a third of the youngest hiring managers would.

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What this means for women

Are women still facing biases during the hiring process that are based on their appearances? Yes. It’s unfortunate, but since younger hiring professionals are more accepting of a larger variety of women’s appearances, positive changes are coming. As these professionals continue to age and hold more hiring positions, the workplace will hopefully become more inclusive and value people for their actual merits, not their looks.

As for now, there are still things women can do to work around existing hiring biases. For example, older women shouldn’t hesitate to apply at up-and-coming startups. Hiring professionals at these companies may actually be more likely to hire you than those at an established corporation. And once older hiring managers begin to see that they’re receiving fewer applicants, perhaps they’ll become more open-minded — or otherwise risk missing out on great talent.

Originally published onFairygodboss.

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