Tattoo image bias could result in organisations missing out on top talent

Having an image bias surrounding an individual’s piercings, dyed hair and tattoos could result in organisations missing out on the best candidates.

A survey conducted by LinkedIn found that three quarters of recruiters and HR professionals believe a person’s image played a significant part in the hiring process. On the subject of tattoos four in ten admitted they had rejected a candidate because they had a visible tattoo, with two fifths saying they had rejected a tattooed candidate due to the organisation’s strict dress code.

There is currently no prohibition on organisations implementing strict dress codes which prohibit tattoos, indeed many organisations in customer facing industries employ these policies as standard. For many, the need to project a smart and professional image to their customers is paramount, with bosses often believing tattoos in particular pose a threat to their corporate image.

The Metropolitan Police for example ban tattoos on the face, hands and above the collar line, as well as any which are discriminatory, violent or intimidating. It is common for airlines to place restrictions on tattoos for cabin crew, whilst there have been numerous stories of professionals having their contracts terminated for refusing to keep their tattoos under cover.

Whilst organisations are within their right to take this stance, it is important to consider the wealth of talented individuals this could be excluding. Recent estimates show that 1 in 5 adults in the UK have a tattoo, which means that you could be ruling out a very large number of capable candidates by making hiring decisions on this basis. ACAS have recently commented on what they describe as an outdated image bias towards tattoos, advising organisations to consider relaxing dress codes or risk drastically reducing the pool of potential recruits.

Whilst it is still widely accepted that candidates dress up and look their best for an interview, organisations should take care not to punish an individual during the interview process for having a tattoo. Some organisations, including the British Army, have already altered their dress code to accommodate the surge in popularity of tattoos. Benefiting from the larger and often younger talent pool this brings in.

Particularly in today’s competitive job market, organisations would be wise to look past outdated image bias and look instead at the talent and experience of the individual. Organisations also need to be wary that whilst tattoos are not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, they run the risk of discrimination claims if an individual’s tattoo can be linked to their religion. Those looking to reduce image bias in recruiting are advised to hold telephone interviews or conduct virtual reality assessments as a more suitable way of determining a candidate’s suitability.

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