“You better wear long sleeves and cover that neck.”
I’ve been given a lot of advice about my tattoos, especially when it comes to landing a job. From recruiters, friends and one time, after requesting a finger tattoo, a tattooer told me the tattoo would be a ‘job-ender’. If I’d listened to any of them, I would never have discovered what a valuable business asset my tattoos would turn out to be.
“Business asset? You’re joking!” I hear you say. Yes, they are my greatest business asset and I’m going to tell you why.
It all started a few years back, at a time I thought I was almost unemployable. I applied for job after job, without much response. I was warned at the time to cover my tattoos during interviews (technically impossible considering my neck, chest, hands and head are tattooed) because it might be the reason I wasn’t getting offers.
Eventually, I was asked in for several interviews and had the pick of some great offers. Despite wondering why the hell they’d offered me a job in the first place, I chose the most corporate of them. Fast forward to my first week and corporate induction. The facilitators asked us new joiners to individually write down on a post-it note something no one knew about us that would benefit the company. Being the show-pony I am, I knew exactly what to write.
The facilitators gathered the post-it notes and huddled at the front of the room, reading and whispering to each other. One announced, “We weren’t going to read these out, but there’s one that we want to know more about.” I knew what was coming. The facilitator continued reading, “Could the person who wrote ‘My body is 75% covered in tattoos’ explain how this will benefit our business?” Everyone in the room turned to look at me (it wasn’t half obvious who’s post-it it was). I had nothing to lose, so I stood proudly and stated that when clients see me walk into a room, they think they’ve hit the creative mother load. I instantly start conversations and challenge the status quo.
Little did I know, word of my cunning stunt spread like wildfire. Shortly after, I heard leadership were quite chuffed about my antics, especially as it had ‘gone viral’. A few weeks later, I was asked to make a video that global HR could use to promote diversity. And a short time after that, my work proved my value as a designer — and I realised the reason they hired me had everything to do with what I do, and nothing to do with my tattoos.
In case you’re wondering, I’m in the business of design. And although being a designer is seen as an acceptable reason to have visible tattoos, being heavily tattooed and working in the corporate world is no cake walk. And being a female in leadership and tattooed is even more challenging. I’ve been subject to judgement, stereotypes and the occasional stank-eye. I’m not always acknowledged as being as capable or experienced as I am. People assume I’m younger than my age (some side effects are pretty awesome!). I’ve been asked by receptionists to show my I.D. or security pass, even after walking past them for months. Working late at night, I’ve been asked to leave the building because I could not possibly be an employee. And I won’t bore you with the number of times I’ve been held up at border security — even carrying platinum status.
But I’m sure those things happen to people with or without tattoos. Either way, ignorance and intolerance isn’t acceptable. Whilst there’s a lot of talk about what diversity means, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion or physical appearance are one way to view diversity, but another is as a mindset. The value and respect given to each employee’s individuality is a reflection of an organisation’s culture and business conduct.
Diversity and inclusion are the cornerstones of great culture, and great culture is critical to sustainable business success. It takes all sorts to achieve great things together, and we must encourage cultures which embraces a mix of backgrounds and soft skills to blaze a trail of thinking and acting differently that results in the kind of change we want to see in the world.
10 Reasons Why My Tattoos Are My Greatest Business Asset:
1. Instant creative credibility. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked if I’m a designer (or tattooer) in an elevator, I’d be a millionaire.
2. I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable. Tattoos don’t tickle, and I’ve sat through more hours of tattooing than I care to remember. They’ve taught me to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
3. I have creative confidence. I wear my heart on my sleeve — literally. I have a heart on my hand that is there to remind me that I continuously to grow creatively and to be confident in what I do.
4. I’m an agent of change. People often tell me they’d like to get a tattoo, but are afraid because they might change their mind after it’s done. Nothing is forever, and the one thing you can be sure of is change. You can always get a cover up. Or laser (see 5.)
5. I’m not afraid of commitment. A tattoo is for life, unless you’re prepared to get laser ( that’s painful story for another day).
6. I’m a conversation starter. I get as nervous as the next person. Opening lines don’t matter so much because I’ve already given people something to talk to me about.
7. I smash the stereotype. Tattoos have a bad reputation for being on bad people who do bad things and live bad lives. Well I’m a good person trying to do great things to improve people’s lives, and I have tattoos.
8. I leave a lasting impression. It’s hard to forget the ‘one covered in tattoos’.
9. They make me work harder at being the best I can be. The stereotypes are there to be broken, and that’s my personal incentive to go the extra mile.
10. They remind me of why diversity is so important. Everyday when I look in the mirror, I’m reminded that I’m responsible for what I’ve done to myself. But others who are subjected to intolerance or ignorance are not. We’re all made of flesh and bones, let’s be excellent to each other!
Chirryl-Lee Ryan, Head of Experience Design, Isobar Hong Kong