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Visible Tattoos as a Source of Employment Discrimination Among Female Applicants for a Supervisory Position

Abstract

Although tattoos have increased in popularity, they may put individuals at a disadvantage when seeking employment. Drawing on the justification-suppression model and the stereotype content model, we propose that job applicants with visible tattoos experience prejudice in hiring and starting salary recommendations because they are stereotyped as less competent and warm than those without visible tattoos. In Study 1, we compared equally qualified Caucasian female applicants in their mid to late 20s with no visible tattoos, a mild visible tattoo, and extreme visible tattoos for the position of a sales manager. Tattooed applicants were less likely to be hired, especially if they had extreme visible tattoos, and were offered lower salaries and rated lower on competence (but not warmth) than applicants without visible tattoos. Furthermore, competence mediated the relationship between visible tattoos and hiring and salary recommendations. In Study 2, we examined if young Caucasian female applicants with visible tattoos can overcome prejudice through their job qualifications and found they were able to mitigate salary discrimination, but not hiring discrimination by being highly qualified. In Study 3, we proposed that young Caucasian female applicants with visible tattoos can neutralize discrimination by being highly qualified and having volunteer experience. However, volunteering did not mitigate prejudice related to visible tattoos. Our findings suggest that it is difficult for applicants with visible tattoos to overcome discrimination.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. The results of the ANOVAs from all the pilot studies are available upon request from the authors.

  2. We found virtually no relationship between participant age and the hiring and salary ratings given to applicants; participant age explained less than 1% of the variance in the ratings. Similarly, there was very little relationship between having body art and applicant ratings. One key recommendation of recent reviews of the use of control variables in the organizational sciences is that control variables that are essentially uncorrelated with the dependent variables should normally be avoided (e.g., Becker, 2005; Bernerth, Cole, Taylor, & Walker, 2018). On that basis, we decided not to control for participants’ age or body art.

  3. Cohen (1988) notes that the multivariate R2 between a set of dependent variables and a set of independent variables in one-way MANOVA is given by 1 − value of Wilks’ lambda. In more complex designs, the value of Wilks’ lambda is adjusted slightly for shrinkage (See Steyn & Ellis, 2009, p. 114).

  4. In Study 3, we chose to include only extreme visible tattoos because there were no differences between mild and extreme tattoos in Study 2.

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Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge the assistance of Katie Dondale in the creation of the photos used in the study and Daniel C. Ganster for his helpful feedback.

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Correspondence to Christine A. Henle.

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Appendix. Study materials

Appendix. Study materials

Sales manager job description

Job summary: Plans, directs, or coordinates the distribution or movement of a product or service to the customer. Coordinates sales distribution by establishing sales territories, quotas, and goals and establishes training programs for sales representatives. Analyzes sales statistics gathered by staff to determine sales potential and inventory requirements and monitors the preferences of customers.

Job tasks

  • Directs and coordinates activities involving sales of manufactured products and services

  • Resolves customer complaints regarding sales and service

  • Reviews operational records and reports to project sales and determine profitability

  • Plans and directs staffing, training, and performance evaluations of sales agents

  • Determines price schedules and discount rates

  • Prepares budgets and approves budget expenditures

  • Monitors customer preferences to determine focus of sales efforts

Job requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree in a related field (e.g., marketing, management, finance, supply chain management)

  • Minimum of 3 years of sales and/or management experience

The salary range for this position is $80,000–$95,000, depending on qualifications.

Applicant profile for mild tattoo condition from Study 1

figure a

Applicant profile for extreme tattoo condition from Study 1

figure b

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Henle, C.A., Shore, T.H., Murphy, K.R. et al. Visible Tattoos as a Source of Employment Discrimination Among Female Applicants for a Supervisory Position. J Bus Psychol 37, 107–125 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-021-09731-w

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-021-09731-w

Keywords

  • Body art
  • Discrimination
  • Hiring
  • Stereotypes
  • Tattoos