Inclusive Communication: Overcoming Accent Bias in the Workplace
Have you ever had your accent mocked at work? Banter isn’t uncommon in modern workspaces and can be playful when it’s reciprocated both ways, but don’t let your feelings become invalidated if you feel offended.
Being made to feel insignificant and unimportant because of your accent is a very serious issue, and it’s time to understand just how detrimental it can be.
What is accent bias?
When there’s prejudice surrounding the way someone talks, specifically the tone and the language used, it’s known as accent bias – or even accent “prestige”. The concept of being judged or mistreated based on how you speak is unfortunately still a prominent part of modern day work culture and can have severe consequences for your future if subjected to it.
One particular scenario where this is dominating is the interview process. Although first impressions are everything, many are judged before they’ve had a chance to show their abilities purely because of how they communicate. A study done by Professor Lance Workman showed that employers favour those who speak the ‘Queen’s English’, meaning they’re more likely to be hired- despite this only being 3% of the population. It was also found that the Liverpudlian accent was voted the most “unfriendly” regional accent with 26% of the votes.
How Can It Impact Your Future?
A study done by The Sutton Trust found that 29% of senior managers with working class backgrounds say they’ve been mocked at work for their accent. It also revealed that 33% of senior managers suffer with anxiety that their accent may hinder their ability to succeed at work.
The consequences of accent bias can be disastrous for the smooth running of a company, affecting both employees and business opportunities:
- Retention: Employees who face consistent accent bias may be more likely to leave the organisation in search of a more inclusive and accepting workplace. High turnover can become costly for companies very quickly, as well as damage reputation.
- Customer Perception: If employees with accents are involved in customer-facing roles, accent bias can disrupt how customers see the organisation. Negative interactions or misunderstandings with customers can damage the company’s reputation and customer satisfaction.
- Teamwork: Struggling to be understood, or becoming excluded from important business conversations can seriously impact collaboration efforts. It can also create a hostile work environment which can do some long-lasting damage and make the office undesirable to work in working environment.
What Can Employers Do?
Although fighting internal biases may seem daunting, employers have a variety of strategies that they can choose to implement within their business to help fight this issue:
- Spread Awareness: The first step to mitigating any bias is acknowledging its existence. Employers need to educate themselves and their staff about accent bias and its potential impact on hiring decisions.
- Host Strictly Structured Interviews: Asking all applicants the same questions means employers can ensure they’re assessing everyone on the same criteria, and leaving no room for any discriminations or stereotypes.
- Implement Diversity Training that focuses on actions to mitigate our biases: Regular training can help employees understand their unconscious biases, including accent bias, that focuses on how to change their workplace processes to mitigate biases. It’s wise to choose training that helps everyone be educated as this way, you can adapt your business approaches accordingly.
Speaking up about accent bias can help others with the same or similar experiences feel seen, and can help to educate businesses and industries about this prevailing issue. By acknowledging how deep rooted it is, and showing true effort in educating yourself and others, everybody from every background can be listened to.
To see more of our articles, please click here.
Guest Writer, The Writer’s Diary