10/17/2011 04:24 EDT | Updated 12/17/2011 05:12 EST

Calgary study to determine if tattoos, piercings a turnoff for would-be employers

CALGARY - Are tattoos taboo in the office? Does an employer judge a book by its cover?

Those are questions a University of Calgary graduate student is hoping to answer in a study about an increasing trend toward tattoos and body piercing and their impact on individuals looking for work.

Cayla Martin is drawing partly on her own experience in which she was told to hide her tattoos and facial piercings while she was working her way through university.

"It's something that's sort of hitting close to home for me," said Martin, 27. "Personally speaking, I am a university student who is seeking a professional career and I do have piercings and tattoos. I've experienced workplace stigma."

Martin said many people look to body art to make personal statements. A recent sample of 400 undergrads at a U.S. university found that 70 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men had body piercings of some type and more than a quarter had tattoos, she said.

Martin said most people are surprised that employers still seem to have a problem with visible tattoos and piercings.

"That does still shock and surprise people. We see people getting tattoos and piercings all the time and the trend is definitely one that is popular.

"But I think ... this is still something that is affecting people."

Martin intends to conduct one-on-one interviews with university women who have both tattoos and piercings. She hopes the results will cause people to challenge their assumptions about women and their capabilities.

Being judged on personal appearances is not unusual, according to The Tattoo Forum, an online source for tattooed and pierced individuals.

"I had the interview and they said I did great but they couldn't hire me because of my showing tattoos," wrote one person identified simply as Ddenzik. "I was just shocked that a place like that would discriminate against tattoos. So my response was, 'Thank you, I don't want to work somewhere that discriminates against people with tattoos anyways.'"

"I have been given a verbal warning for my tattoos showing through a white shirt (not even on display). I still wear a white shirt," said Matthew in his online post.

"But, yes, many places I have applied state no visible tattoos due to 'customer service standards'. This is why I have never gone for forearm sleeves."