“How are you going to get a job with all of those tattoos?” “We think you’re great, but we just need you to tone it down.” “Could you change your hair?” “Can you put cover up on those tattoos?” “Your hair is pretty, but could you just keep it pulled back for work?”

These are some of the phrases I heard when entering the workforce out of college. I was good at what I did, they just wanted me to compromise part of my identity to do it. They liked how I sounded on the phone, but how could they let me in front of clients with pink hair? How far will we go to please an employer? What parts of your identity are you willing to compromise?

The answer for me and many other millennials, has always been, “nothing.”

I will not compromise who I am for anyone. This holds true in my personal and professional life. It has taken 27 years to become the person I am today, and I am proud of that. I have blue hair and upwards of 20 tattoos, this has never stopped me from excelling at what I do. Tattoos and dyed hair held a heavy stigma for previous generations. They were signs of rebellion, and occasionally failure. Slowly but surely, many companies are starting to realize that this is not the case. Too often, I think we forget that our personality and our identity are what make us so good at what we do. 

As a recruiter, most of my day to day involves cultivating relationships and getting people excited. How can I do that if I am pretending to be someone I’m not? Being myself is how I create trust with my candidates and clients. Having piercings, tattoos & colored hair has no bearing on how we do our jobs or how we connect with people. I want to work for an employer who can see that and understand how maintaining our identity is vital in workplace happiness. I want to work for someone who employs all kinds of people. I want to hear and see different perspectives. I don’t want to look around and be surrounded by people who look and sound exactly like me, that isn’t how growth manifests itself. A good employer is someone who appreciates your true self, the person that you have worked so hard at becoming.

Currently, millennials take up 1/3 of the workforce, and that number will continue to rise. Millennials want to work for companies that challenge the status quo and are socially responsible. Millennials are looking for companies who value self-expression, not rip it away. We are willing to take less money in exchange for happiness. For me, happiness in the workplace is being given the freedom to be myself without reprimand and being able to experience others who are different from me. How can we be expected to “think outside of the box” if we confine our identity to a societal “norm”? I, personally, want to be surrounded with creative minds bursting with new ideas.