[Proposal] Stigmatization of Tattooed Black Men in Hiring Contexts: A Multiple Categorization Approach

Appearance standards […] can undercut diversity by rationalizing racism, sexism, ageism, and other forms of prejudice (Dipboye, 2005, p. 282).


Black men have continued to face lower employment prospects—in recent years and across several countries—despite the prominence of anti-discrimination laws (e.g., Quillian et al., 2019). Our study seeks to test a unique explanation for this discrimination: specifically, Black men might be unfairly rejected not only because of their race, but also other stigmatized features they possess (Derous et al., 2016). Research has shown especially that racial minorities are more likely to possess and be discriminated against for one feature in particular: being tattooed (e.g., Laumann & Derick, 2006). As such, being both a Black man and tattooed may result in more discrimination than belonging to either group alone.

A theoretical framework called the ‘outgroup male target hypothesis’ delineates why discrimination against Black job candidates—especially men—is particularly strong (Navarrete et al., 2010). Specifically, this framework proposes that Black men are disadvantaged in a hiring context, because they are seen as outgroup competitors and threats (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999; Vikman, 2005). Employers might therefore discriminate against Black men most strongly—whether consciously or unknowingly—due to these ingrained evolutionary mechanisms.

Our study tests whether the discrimination targeted at Black men will worsen when they are also tattooed. Because the negative stereotypes about Black men (e.g., being deviant; Welch, 2007) reaffirm those about being tattooed, their effects may accumulate more highly than they would for White persons (Lowman et al., 2019). Tattooed people are, for instance, seen as untrustworthy and unintelligent despite no evidence supporting these beliefs (Cebula & Kasten, 2015). These negative perceptions of tattooed people exist despite a third of the United States population being tattooed—across all levels of education and socioeconomic status (The Harris Poll, 2016). Nonetheless, employers can freely reject applicants and cite tattoos as their justification, because they are not legally protected characteristics (Elzweig & Peeples, 2011). If the negative stereotypes of Black men and tattooed persons reinforce each other, this may be one explanation for why Black men are judged more harshly than other groups.

Moreover, our study examines whether the discrimination against Black men is moderated by the culture of the hiring organization. An organization with a hierarchy culture, for instance, values professionalism, conservatism, and risk aversion (Quinn & Rohrbaugh, 1983), which runs counter to the negative stereotypes associated with Black men and tattooed people. Hierarchies are further associated with status inequalities and social dominance (Rosenblatt, 2012), as well as maintaining racial inequalities in organizational structures (Wingfield & Alston, 2014). Conversely, an organization with an adhocracy culture values creativity and diversity, which reaffirm traits that are linked with being tattooed (e.g., Dickson et al., 2015; Tiggemann, 2011). Adhocracy cultures are also associated with ethical practices (Pasricha et al., 2018), such as not disadvantaging candidates based on race or other personal characteristics (Eisenbeiss, 2012; Marsh, 2012). The organizational culture of the hiring organization may thus moderate the extent of discrimination faced by Black men.

Based on the above lines of evidence, we hypothesize the following.

Hypothesis 1: There will be an interaction between applicant gender and ethnicity, such that hirability ratings will be a) lowest for Black men, b) lower for Black men than for Black women, c) highest for White men, and d) higher for White men than for White women.

Hypothesis 2: There will be an interaction between applicant ethnicity and organizational culture, such that tattooed Black applicants will receive lower hirability ratings than tattooed White applicants in a hierarchy culture, but to a weaker extent in an adhocracy culture.


Study design

We will use a 2 x 2 x 2 between-subjects design. The three factors are: applicant gender (female, male), applicant ethnicity (Black, White), and organizational culture (hierarchy, adhocracy).


We will only recruit participants who are United States citizens. Further, we will restrict participation based on the ‘Hiring Experience’ pre-screener, such that only people with job responsibilities involving applicant hiring may participate. Finally, we will restrict participation to people who are White/Caucasian, as they will be most likely to view Black applicants as outgroup members (Navarrete et al., 2010).


Participants will complete an online Qualtrics study, where they are asked to imagine being a recruiter in charge of hiring a new manager. Participants will review a description of the job and organizational culture, then informed that the applicant has arrived for their interview. These ‘applicants’ are actors who recorded videos of themselves answering interview questions, with a temporary tattoo on their neck, Participants will watch videos of the applicant answering four interview questions, and then rate their suitability for the job.

Sample Size and Costs

Using the Superpower package (Lakens, 2020) in R statistical environment, we conducted an a priori power analysis to determine the required number of participants based on the smallest effect size of interest (Anvari & Lakens, 2019). We input the expected pattern of cell means on job applicant hirability per condition, indicating a partial eta-squared effect size of .04 and a Cohen’s f effect size of .19. To achieve power of .90, 38 participants are needed per cell, or at least 304 participants total. We will recruit 500 participants to account for potential loss of participants who give insufficient effort during the study (DeSimone & Harms, 2018).

The study will be 20 minutes long, and each participant will be paid 2.50 GBP. Using the pricing calculator on the Prolific website, the total cost is 1,666.67 GBP, which comprises 1,250.00 GBP for participant payments and 416.67 GBP for the 33% service fee.

Preregistration and Open-Access

We preregistered our study and hypotheses using the following AsPredicted.org form.

We will make our findings, study materials, analysis code, and data openly available by uploading the files to our Open Science Foundation project link for peer-review. The proposed study has already been granted ethics approval by our institutional review board.