I just want to be me. But, I also want to eat. Let me clarify that: I want to eat food from a refrigerator plugged into one of four adjoining walls that are capped by a roof. On one of these walls I want the 1970’s poster of the kitten clinging to a tree branch, encouraging me to “hang in there!”
Wanting this makes me human; having it makes me luckier than most on the Big Blue Marble. Unfortunately, the packet of money tree seeds I sent away for never arrived (although the Sea Monkeys did). As you can see from the pictured advertisement, I added water and now I have a tiny plastic castle mortgage and a family of four sea monkeys to support. This means I work for a living; sometimes at places completely the opposite of my personality and political leanings.
In these instances, how much self-expression should I suppress for job security and professional acceptance? Could Kat Von D climb a conventional corporate ladder? Am I board room material with a ring in my nose?
My tattoo runs the full length of my forearm and 98% of my clients don’t know it exists. I wear long sleeves to onsite gigs year-round. The only clients who know about my tattoo are the ones that pay for happy hour—they’re also the clients who know my work produces positive results and trust my professionalism. But what would my bank account look like if I didn’t keep it covered? Finance, healthcare and government are the majority of industries I create content for. Anything outside of Ann Taylor’s closet is considered subversive. I wonder how many of my colleagues in these industries suppress parts of their personalities for a paycheck?
Nicki M. worked for the Bush Administration in the Department of Homeland Security. She says, “I got my belly button pierced because I was a boring auditor and wanted to spice things up.” It’s like a tiny act of rebellion beneath our Brooks Brothers blazers. We keep the permanently placed dolphins, butterflies and names of exes safe beneath our Victoria’s Secrets.
I talked to Craig Cohen, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Waiter.com, about body art and other ‘alternative’ forms of self-expression within his company. Waiter.com is unique: a classic Silicon Valley-based start-up going strong since 1995. West Coast open-mindedness goes a long way when it comes to tattoos and piercings. However, Waiter.com is an online food ordering and delivery service from hundreds of restaurants to mostly companies and professional organizations with large group food ordering needs in six metro areas across the United States. Would you want your delivery drivers walking into Apple, a huge law firm or any other multinational corporation looking like they got off the Lollapalooza tour?
“As far as tattoos, our overall policy is nothing visible. Since we have long sleeve uniforms, this is typically not a problem (though we have turned away candidates with neck tattoos, that could not be easily covered).
Our sanity check with the driver employees is really this: Would my Mom be comfortable receiving a delivery from this driver? Would she think highly of our company? While our focus is primarily corporate delivery, we also do some home delivery, so it’s imperative that our customers are comfortable with our drivers entering their homes.
As far as piercings on drivers – similar to restaurants – we ask for anything very flashy (eyebrow, nose piercings) to be removed during work hours. Earrings can be worn by men or women if they appear reasonable.”
I asked Craig if his appearance policy differs from his in-house employees to his drivers. He elaborated,
“Our standards are a bit higher for our customer facing employees. For our in-office staff, we’re looking for generally acceptable casual office dress and have rarely had an issue in this area. I do recall a temp employee we had – who interviewed clean cut – but subsequently showed up to work with bright, dyed-carrot-orange spiky hair and a fresh chin piercing. Of course that was the day one of our investors chose to visit.”
When asked if, on some level, Waiter.com is less likely to bring someone on board with visible tattoos or piercings, Craig stated,
“We look at the whole package of a person. Does the candidate show up to the interview on time? Do they reek of smoke or too much perfume? Are they dressed inappropriately? Do they leave their blue tooth headset in the ear during the entire interview? I think smart candidates would tone down any piercings and cover most tattoos. If we can see them, that potentially means poor judgment, which is a critical skill. I’m always surprised at company parties (where the dress code is more relaxed) to find out which employees actually have tattoos and I never knew it.
I do think your appearance matters for growth. It is one way to show you take your work seriously. A visible piercing or a tattoo may be a distraction for your boss or co-workers – so an employee should weigh the relative importance of whether they really want to show off their “flare” at the office – or whether to save it for their personal life.”
I asked another friend, Kim Kenny, about her take on the subject. We’re a lot alike in some ways: by day we’re mild-mannered professionals; by dusk we’re inked up musicians and surfers with the potential to bring down your property value and make your mother consider your future in a convent. Kim is a human resources executive at a Bay Area pharmaceutical company and has a full leg sleeve.
Me: Has anyone senior to you at work seen your ink?
Kim: I kept it covered at first. Religiously. Then my Vice President walked in while I was meeting with an outside vendor who has an enormous and beautiful back piece. She had her shirt up and I had my skirt up and we both got caught. The only thing my very conservative VP said was, “I don’t have any tattoos to share.”
Me: I feel like we’re talking less about tattoos and more about the plot to a Cinemax movie after 11 p.m. For the sake of my straight male readers, my non-straight female readers and those in between, can you give me more specifics about your skirt being up and the other woman getting shirtless in your office? Was there guitar music incorporating a lot of wah pedal in the background?
Kim: I’m going to hang up now.
Me: I’m lonely and don’t have cable.
Me: So, uh, ok. Were there any ramifications to your Vice President “discovering” your full leg tattoo?
Kim: At that point I said, “F*ck it.” I don’t broadcast it now – have never worn a skirt without boots or some kind of hose. But even in boots, you can see it clearly – it goes up to my knee and is about to start climbing up my thigh. My view of professionalism has never altered. My work speaks for itself. I’ve made tremendous gains in my job here and have a lot of feathers in my cap. Anyone who wants to knock me down based on my body art rather than my body of work can kiss my a**.
Me: You make me want to tryout for roller derby and rent Thelma & Louise on Netflix.
Kim: I’d rather not work at a place that would judge me like that anyway. I am charming, talented and very, very resourceful. I will find a way to make a living. That is what accepting my tattoo and requiring others to do the same has brought me. No one defines my success but me. Get on board or get the f*ck out of the way.
Me: If we were in prison I’d totally want to be in your gang and give you my cigarettes. I’d also get another tattoo.
Here’s what I’ve decided: until the Sea Monkeys move out and get jobs, or Oprah decides that my manuscript must be made into a movie, I’ll keep my ink discreet when it comes to life down on the cube farm.
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