Tattoos in the workplace: hospitality leads the charge

May 6, 2024

In a bold move that challenges decades of corporate convention, one Cape Town hotel is redefining professionalism, one tattoo at a time.

On 11 May 2024, Radisson RED Cape Town will host an event celebrating the growing acceptance of tattoos within professional settings, and pushing back against the archaic, harmful stigmas around tattoos and those who wear them.

Today, an estimated 225 million people around the world have at least one tattoo. In the past, tattoo wearers were subject to a ubiquitous yet unfair assumption: The number of tattoos a person has is inversely proportional to their professionalism, and the value they’d bring to any workplace.

However, societal norms are evolving, and nowadays tattoos are increasingly being recognised as legitimate expressions of personality, as well as a form of embodied storytelling.

This shift is part of a broader questioning of workplace norms that may stem from post-colonial or imperial sensibilities, asking us to consider which standards are genuinely necessary, and which ones insidiously reinforce outdated prejudices and divisions.

For the older generations, tattoos are often understood as a reclamation of individuality, and a subtle rebellion against the homogenising forces that often dictate our lives – forces symbolised by the uniforms and costumes which designate one’s role and standing in society.

“Unfortunately, there are still a lot of negative stereotypes, but we all just want to be creative, and to create beautiful art,” shares Emilia Pawlikowska, a Tattoo Artist at Sally Mustang Tattoos Cape Town.

She explains that her customers have a wide variety of deeply personal motivations for getting tattoos, from memorial tattoos in remembrance of loved ones who’ve passed on, to helping people feel happier and more confident by decorating parts of their bodies they may have felt insecure about.

In the hospitality industry, especially among chefs who tend to be creative individuals with a keen sense of aesthetics, tattoos are prevalent, and even celebrated as part of individual creative expression.

The sector, which encompassed hosting, food services, entertainment, and tourism activities, values talent and personality above all else and therefore tends to be more meritocratic than many other professional spaces, suggests Dayle Theunissen, digital communications and marketing lead at Radisson Red Cape Town.

He says that, while initial barriers and biases may exist, in hospitality, proven ability and endorsements from credible colleagues quickly override any potential reservations about body art.

“What truly matters is your ability to excel in the role and make a positive impression on all those you serve. Having tattoos should not make it more challenging to land any job. Your tattoos further express your creativity and personality,” Theunissen says.

“At the end of the day, it’s the person who does the work, and not their skin. Some of the most gracious, warm-hearted and meticulous individuals you’ll meet happen to be adorned with tattoos.”