Body art discrimination at work

Debbie Lenz, owner of Artistic Dermagraphics, will be featured in an issue of the new magazine Ladies in Tattooing Worldwide in 2022.

By Mia Albaugh

Opinions are still mixed as research shows tattoos are becoming more accepted in the workplace.

Previously, people with tattoos were perceived to be less employable than those with no tattoos. This was especially the case with visible tattoos.

Local tattoo shop Artistic Dermagraphics is a family-owned business established in 1974. Artists of the shop have noticed an increasing societal acceptance of people with body art.

Debbie Lenz, owner of the shop, has been tattooing for 40 years. She will be featured in the new magazine Ladies of Tattooing Worldwide in 2022. She has noticed an increase in people getting tattooed, especially over the past 10 years, and even an increase since the pandemic.

“A wider range of people are getting tattooed,” Debbie Lenz said. “I’ve tattooed doctors before — I’ve even tattooed Catholic priests.”

Jack Lenz, Debbie Lenz’s son, has been tattooing for 24 years and said the shop sees a variety of clients with diverse occupations.

“It’s gotten a lot better, but every once in a while you have people that are concerned that they might have a visible tattoo for a job,” Jack Lenz said. “Jobs are more open to letting their employees have tattoos now.”

Research by Michael Fench, Karoline Mortensen and Andrew Timming focused on the question: Do job applicants and employees with tattoos suffer a penalty in the labor market because of their body art?

Fench et al. found no evidence of employment, wage or earnings discrimination against people with various types of tattoos. They said in some instances, those with tattoos were more likely to gain employment.

“These results suggest that, contrary to popular opinion as well as research findings with hiring managers and customers,” Fench et al. said. “Having a tattoo does not appear to be associated with disadvantage or discrimination in the labor market.”

Gina Armeni is a tattoo artist at Artistic Dermagraphics.

However, Chris Henle, Ted Shore and Alyssa Marshall studied and found a range of results. They studied how hiring managers perceive tattooed people and bias.

Results of the study by Henle et al. showed that those with:

  • Extreme tattoos were less likely to be hired 
  • Mild or severe tattoos were offered lower starting salaries than those without body  art
  • Extreme tattoos were perceived as less competent and committed than applicants without body art 
  • Less supervisory experience were less likely to hire applicants with extreme tattoos
  • No or few tattoos were less likely to hire applicants with extreme tattoos or extreme piercings
  • More piercings were less likely to hire applicants without body art

“I’ve had people — especially in the past — stare, and you can tell they’re talking about you,” Jack Lenz said.

Roxana Lenz is the daughter of Debbie Lenz and the front-of-house person for Artistic Dermagraphics: she sees clients first and sets them up with an artist. She said she meets about 50 people daily, a combination of new and regular customers.

“Everybody gets tattooed,” Roxana Lenz said. “I try to advise anybody under 18 to not get anything noticeable.”

“Tattooing is definitely becoming more mainstream now. People are way more accepting of it than they used to be — and it’s definitely an art,” Jack Lenz said.  “It’s not just something we do, you know, just to do. You have to be experienced and a good artist to be a good tattoo artist.”