Is it time to celebrate tattoos in the Early Childhood workplace?

At The Curiosity Approach® we are inspired by the curriculum of New Zealand, Te Whāriki, whereby our settings are places of togetherness and belonging for children and adults. We look to create places and spaces where children and ADULTS feel like they BELONG!

 At our own 6 Early Childhood settings based in the UK, we employ over 160 staff across 6 sites. These are work places in which everyone is given an opportunity to reach their full potential, to celebrate their differences and where everyone is treated with equal respect.

 However, is this truly the case for workplaces everywhere, are we creating a sense of belonging and acceptance for those staff who choose to have tattoos or body piercings?

Within Early Childhood settings we are governed by legislation, policies and procedures, to ensure we celebrate diversity and promote inclusion for everyone who enters through our doors.  However is this completely true? Or do some settings still place ‘corporate image’ and out dated ‘Dress code’ tattoo policies, over the decision to employ someone based on their passion for Early Years, their love of children and their ability to do the job?  Do we place expectations on them, demands on educators to cover up, conform and sadly not embrace the whole person and see their tattoos as unacceptable within an Early Years Environment ?

Do we all ACTUALLY walk the talk when it comes to ‘inclusion and diversity’  or are some settings still using current unchanged employment law as an excuse to drag behind for our Early Years Educators and the acceptance of  them and their tattoos and /or piercings within the workplace. What if educators have to hide and cover up their tattoos in order to feel accepted in the workplace they love?  

Sadly, it seems employment law hasn’t yet caught up either !!

We asked employment law consultant Imogen Edmunds from Redwing Solutions the ‘current’ legislation regarding tattoos in the work place and she was quoted to say: ‘Tattoos and body art are increasingly popular, but anyone considering a tattoo that will be visible should also consider whether their employer (current and future) might take issue with it. UK Employment law doesn’t recognise body art (apart from religious markings) to be a protected characteristic. This means that under the Equality Act 2010 an employer can choose to reject a candidate purely on the basis of their visible body art and it won’t be discrimination. Furthermore, it is conceivable that visible body art could lead to an employer dismissing an employee, particularly where the role involves regular contact with customers" -  

Let us pause there and ponder! 

An employer can therefore choose to reject a candidate purely on the basis of their visible body art and it won’t be discrimination. Imogen warns us that by having “visible body art could lead to an employer dismissing an employee, particularly where the role involves regular contact with customers.”  

We take the time to thank Imogen of Redwings for helping to clarify current employment law. 

 So where do educators stand, if employment law doesn’t see tattoos as a form of discrimination, yet Early Childhood may miss the opportunity to be employed as incredible practitioners / educators just because of their choice to have a tattoo or facial piecing? 

Does this mean that some settings (with the backing of employment law) contradict the firm affirmations that they ARE inclusive and encourage diversity and discourage anti discriminatory practice?

Is it now time for mindful consideration regarding ‘dress code’ and the employment of educators who have tattoos and body piercings?

Is it now time to push back on outdated preconceived ideas, views, expected norms and possible prejudice? 

To reconsider our ‘ dress code policy!

What if tattoos and piecing are not about dress code but about APPEARANCE? How can we therefore discriminate on how someone looks, regardless if their uniform is clean and carefully ironed and pressed?

Isn’t Early Childhood provisions the place we teach children that everyone is treated with EQUAL RESPECT, regardless of our differences? A place in which children need us adults to help them learn about themselves, other people and the world around them. To learn and discover their identity and their place in the world?

How can we do this if the educators who teach these children, are sadly unable to be their own TRUE authentic self?

WHY IS IT,  many settings are still getting caught up with an expectation that staff members have to hide their true self, true identify and hide who they truly are in order to FIT IN! To sadly have to cover up their tattoos and take out their facial piercings if they want to work in Early Years?

We also need to consider that staff members will work to their full potential if they feel they belong and are comfortable in their own skin. What about on those swelteringly hot days, if staff are expected to cover up tattoos and prohibited from wearing short sleeved shirt or shorts. Their uniform could become hot, uncomfortable and cause upset, discomfort and lack of morale and enthusiasm for their role! 

At The Curiosity Approach® we look to revolutionise outdated practice and bring Early Childhood education into the 21st century to celebrate our 'work family' as unique, different and diverse. To follow in the foot steps of big companies like Google, Ikea and Lush, all of them have a reputation of being tattoo-friendly employers. Hilary Jones, the Ethical Director of Lush says, “We don’t have an appearance policy, we’ve never been prejudiced against anything".

As mentioned previously, our inspiration is also derived from the vision from the Te Whāriki curriculum, who foresees children as having a sense of belonging and knowledge that they contribute to society (Ministry of Education, 2017). But sadly what happens once children grow up and they are no longer seen as a valuable contributor to society, only due to the decisions made in life and their personal choice to have body art or piercings?

What if, due to expected social norms in our Early Childhood settings,  they are not considered as role models for our children? How sad would this be if we were missing out on some incredible practitioners, only because of the body art incapsulated in time, on their body?

We would like to take this opportunity to mindfully, consider and reflect whether diversity and inclusion is TRULY EMBRACED for our colleagues, as well as our children?

It is true to say that tattoos, body art full sleeves or small symbolic tattoos are growing in popularity and according to research carried out by the British Association of Dermatologists in 2012, one in five people are estimated to have a tattoo. For individuals in their 30s, this rises to two-fifths. Tattoos are everywhere! However, a recent report for the British Sociological Association found employers frequently expressed negative views about the image projected by noticeably tattooed staff.

Is this time to change and reconsider? We totally understand that tattoos are not everyone’s cup of tea. But surely, it is time and consideration to what a true ‘sense of belonging’ means for adult and child, within our settings?  Do we really follow our inclusion and diversity policy or are we just paying lip service to the parts that suit our own personal views and opinions?

If you are going to reflect and reconsider your ‘appearance policy’ it is important to remember that not all tattoos are appropriate for Early Years! Problems may arise in the workplace, if tattoos express political messages, make sexual suggestions, depict violence, or reflect affiliation with a particular group. These can also give an insight into the beliefs and thinking or even prejudices of potential employees.

A few more pointers to consider ....

If you are familiar with Naeyc and the Code of Ethical Practice, we must treat educators with the same consideration we give our children, free from discrimination.

Let us also be reminded of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights- “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, including the right and the freedom of being different, and only in this sense we are all the same. So, we can affirm we all are equal in our dignity and in our right and freedom of being different.

We are delighted to share that even New Zealand Airlines, has dropped its policy on tattoos from September 1st 2019, they stated ...

“Air New Zealand is committed to building a diverse and inclusive workplace. Allowing our employees to express their individuality and cultural heritage through tattoos is the latest step on our path to truly embracing diversity and creating a workplace where Air New Zealanders can be themselves and thrive”.

Finally, taken from the amazing piece written by Early Childhood expert,  Heather Bernt-Santy who eloquently writes, that there are also three main points to consider when thinking about restrictive dress codes and these are ‘in line with developmentally appropriate practice for the children’ we serve. She says....

Point 1:

‘What do we need to take into consideration when making decisions that can impact children’s social/emotional development? Let’s start with Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Children in early childhood programs will likely be working through the stages of autonomy vs self-doubt, when they need to be supported in their development of confidence and self-worth and initiative vs. guilt, and when they need to be supported in their developing abilities. While conversations about these stages tend to focus on things such as self-help skills, decision making and idea exploration, they could be extended to include elements of identity formation. If a child in the autonomy vs self-doubt stage spends hours and days of her life in a setting where her family culture is invisible, she receives a powerful message that she is not as valuable or worthy as those who are regularly represented. A child who is working through the initiative vs guilt stage and never sees or interacts with others who look like their important adults may develop a sense of shame about his family’.

Point 2:

‘Children who see their families reflected positively in their Early Childhood settings learn that they belong. They receive a message of affirmation and acceptance that is critical to their development as a unique individual. Children who do not have adults in their lives with tattoos and piercings also benefit from this visibility. They learn that the world is a positive place with many different kinds of people, who can all learn from and connect with each other. We will have both of these types of children in our programs and we need to be sure that we are ready. This means examining our conversations, attitudes and practices to avoid situations like these.’

Point 3:

Another ‘aspect of children’s lives that we must consider in our efforts to provide developmentally appropriate experiences is to consider the social and cultural contexts the children live in. The reality is that we will care for children whose families have tattoos, nontraditional piercings and “non- natural” hair colors. Dress codes that prohibit these types of personal expression are not only based on outdated social norms, they may work against our efforts to develop positive relationships with these children and their families’.

This Informative insight is way better than anything we could have written and we give credit to Heather for this piece of writing. Please see the link below to the full document.

 As Early Years employers and settings, we strive to follow (the Equality Act 2010) to protect employees with 'protected characteristics' from unfair treatment. Regardless of gender, marital status, gender reassignment, pregnancy, maternity, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief.

Now it is time, as Early Childhood Educators and employers to lead the way in inclusive practice and add ‘employees who have tattoos and piercings to the protected characteristics !

Because this is where the foundations of diversity and inclusion begin and together we CAN do more and we CAN lead the way! REGARDLESS IF EMPLOYMENT LAW RECOGNISES IT OR NOT!


Further reading 

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2011). Code of ethical conduct and statement of commitment. Retrieved from files/globally-shared/downloads/ PDFs/resources/position- statements/Ethics%20Position%20 Statement2011_09202013update.pdf.