In the same week that Virgin Atlantic became the first airline in the UK to allow visible tattoos, I finally took the plunge and got the visible tattoos that I have always wanted, but never felt I could have. Whilst I was sat in the tattoo chair recently, the artist said to me “you must really feel secure in your job these days”. It was a really poignant moment for me, and I felt compelled to write about my experiences with having tattoos and working in the financial services industry.
For as long as I have loved finance, I have loved tattoos. The first ones I got were small and could be easily hidden, which was just as well since I was entering an industry that would turn out to be pretty biased towards people who look a certain way (sorry industry, but it’s true).
Up until I joined The Verve Group in October last year, I have worked for IFA firms in roles anywhere from reception to operations. Most of those firms, in some way, communicated that my tattoos had to be hidden or that I had to present myself in a certain way.
Back then, part of me understood the reasons for this; there is a common view that tattoos look unprofessional and that certain clients wouldn’t approve. As I grew older. I grew more comfortable in my own skin, I had career and exam success, I achieved a lot, and I did it all with tattoos.
One experience that still sits with me today was when I started interviewing for a new job. I went through several rounds of interviews and tests, seemed to get on well with the owner and was really looking forward to my new chapter, but she had some reservations about my appearance… mainly my tattoos which I hadn’t been hiding away as much as I used to.
I really wanted this job. Like, really. So, I agreed to go back to hiding them away. Even now, looking back and writing this, I can feel the shame I felt. I’d done well in my career and gained advance qualifications. I’m friendly, approachable and chatty (you’d never have guessed, right?) so why would my tattoos being on show make me any less suitable for the job? Needless to say, that tenure didn’t last long.
Over the past few years, I’ve been in non-client facing roles, so the tattoo issue hasn’t really been something to think about. Yet, I still wouldn’t take the plunge and have any that couldn’t be hidden. I still attended interviews in trousers and boots. I still felt like I looked ‘unprofessional’ in my normal attire. It wasn’t until I joined The Verve Group that I really, genuinely, felt like I could be myself. Thanks to their relaxed dress code, I never even attempted to hide my tattoos away and I have never felt more myself at work. So, I took the plunge, and I got the tattoos. Part of me is still nervous that I’ve somehow made myself unemployable, but for the first time in my career, I feel comfortable with my decision to decorate my body.
Looking back at the experiences I’ve had in the past and comparing them with how I feel now, I’ve been pondering whether ‘professional’ in our industry is associated with a certain image. I think it is. When people think about finance, they’ll generally think of a banker. An older, probably white, male in a suit. No tattoos. No distinguishing features. Nothing fun, or unique. Nothing to draw people into our industry. Nothing to attract the younger generation of clients.
If we, as an industry are ever going to get away from these stereotypes and biases, we must start moving with the times. There are always stories in the financial press about how we should succession plan and webinars on how to attract the next generation of clients. What better way than to retire those archaic views that ‘professional’ people have to look a certain way and start employing people for their talent?