Interviewers are less likely to hire people if they can’t place their accent, study finds


Interviewers are less likely to hire candidates with an accent they can’t place, a study has revealed.

Researchers from the University of Queensland in Brisbane assessed the frequency at which applicants with ‘non-standard’ accents get a job.

A non-standard accent was defined as one different from that generally known and accepted as the way of speaking.

The team examined the results of 27 separate studies on accent-bias and found that women from minority groups receive the most discrimination. Men, on the other hand, are judged the same regardless of their accent.

The University of Queensland team examined the results of 27 separate studies on accent-bias, and found that women from minority groups receive the most discrimination

‘STANDARD’ AND ‘NON-STANDARD’ ACCENTS 

The majority of the studies reviewed took place in English, and therefore a ‘standard’ accent was regarded as one used by native English speakers.

‘Standard’ accents

  • British
  • Northern American
  • Southern American
  • New Zealand
  • South African 

‘Non-standard’ accents 

  • European (eg Dutch, French, German, Russian, Spanish)
  • Asian (eg Chinese, Indian, Japanese)
  • Mexican American
  • Arabic 

Lead author Dr Jessica Spence said: ‘We found accent bias was strongest against people in marginalised or minority groups.

‘This is concerning because more than 272 million people live in a country other than their place of birth and one of the top motivations for migration is better job opportunities.

‘Non-standard accents work against candidates when they already battle minority status.’ 

The study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, looked at the success rate of 4,576 interviewees in total. 

They all spoke English with a large variety of accents, including American, Mexican-American, British, Arabic and Chinese.

They found there was ‘strong prejudice’ demonstrated if a candidate had a foreign accent relative to the native language, such as with Chinese-accented English.

But there was not one for regional accents, which were defined as native variations, like Northern American and Southern American, or ethnic variations, like American and African American, to dialect.

The bias was stronger for roles that required communication, so the researchers concluded this was related to the candidate’s potential job performance. 

However, they also think that prejudice could play a part, if the non-standard accent signalled an ‘otherness’ to the interviewee and they were devalued as a result.

Indeed, the comprehensibility of the applicant’s accent, or how easy it felt to understand it, did not appear to affect this observed hiring bias. 

The authors suggest that some employers could use the communication requirements of the role to rationalise their own bias. 

The bias was stronger for roles that required communication, so the researchers concluded this was related to the candidate's potential job performance (stock image)

The bias was stronger for roles that required communication, so the researchers concluded this was related to the candidate’s potential job performance (stock image)

The most attractive accents 

In an experiment, eharmony asked respondents to listen to a sentence read by speakers with 20 distinct accents and rate each one on attractiveness. The results revealed that the most attractive accents were:

  1. Received Pronunciation
  2. New Zealand
  3. Edinburgh
  4. Australian
  5. German
  6. Yorkshire
  7. Irish
  8. Glasgow
  9. Geordie
  10. American
  11. Essex
  12. Liverpudlian
  13. London
  14. Manchester
  15. Italian
  16. Welsh
  17. Birmingham
  18. Spanish
  19. French
  20. Cornish

The researchers did notice that the degree of bias correlated to the interviewer’s perception of the candidates’ social status.

This was measured using traits including competence, intelligence, social class, confidence, ambitiousness, competitiveness independence and wealth.

Standard-accented applicants were generally rated higher in status than non-standard accented applicants, thus the hiring bias may reflect ‘prejudices that are driven by preexisting stereotypes’.

Dr Spence said: ‘We found women with standard accents were favoured as job candidates over women with non-standard accents, but men were judged equally regardless of their accent.

‘We could interpret from these findings that female candidates who have a non-standard accent and candidates with accents that may signal they belong to a minority racial-ethnic group may be subjected to stronger discrimination when being interviewed for jobs.’

She explained that the bias against women could be due to the ‘differing societal importance placed on women to appear warm’, or that language proficiency is ‘stereotypically associated as female’.

The team hope their research can be used to help reduce accent-based discrimination by raising awareness of the issue with employers. 

Co-author Dr Kana Imuta said: ‘Accent-based discrimination can often fly under the radar, and we hope this research will help increase awareness that it is a reality.

‘Further research is needed into the underlying processes that contribute to accent-based biases.

‘We also need to identify strategies to mitigate the negative impact these biases have on people.’

In the UK specifically, previous research has shown that Northerners with strong accents are discriminated against.

A study from Northumbria University found that those with strong northern accents are seen as ‘less intelligent’ and ‘less educated’ by those in the south. 

The team of experts interviewed more than 300 people over a four-year period and found that most people were unaware of their ‘deeply embedded implicit biases’. 

Dr Robert McKenzie, who led the study, told The Times: ‘We played northern and southern speech samples to the study participants and asked them to associate positive traits, such as whether they sounded educated, with those voices.

‘People were much more prejudiced when it came to accents from the north of England, for example, believing they sound less intelligent, less ambitious, less educated just from the way they speak.’

Other studies have revealed that people with English and French accents receive preferential customer service than those with an Eastern European or African twang.

Northern accents are dying out and could DISAPPEAR BY 2066 

From the approachable Geordie dialect to the instantly recognisable Liverpool lilt, many of England’s most distinctive accents are from the north.

But a new study has warned that northern accents could all but disappear in just 45 years.

Using physics modelling, researchers from the Universities of Portsmouth and Cambridge predicted how accents are likely to change across England by 2066.

Their findings suggest that northern accents could be replaced with ‘posh’ south eastern pronunciations.

However, certain north-south differences are predicted to remain – we will continue to disagree about the pronunciation of `bath’, according to the researchers.

Read more here 

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