When the Sutton Trust released their Speaking Up: Accents and social mobility report last year, their research stated that accent had become one of the primary signals of socio-economic status in the UK. It highlighted that accent could become a proxy for other forms of discrimination linked to social mobility, particularly when recruiting to elite professions. They found that accent biases are likely to negatively impact individuals at key junctures for social mobility, such as in job interviews.
In the report, Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, states, “Talent in Britain is spread evenly, but opportunities are not. That means there are talented young people with every kind of accent, but for many, they need to work harder to prove their worth, just because of how they speak.” He continues, “This country has learned to be more diverse in many respects, but there remain taboos about accents. We must embrace the diversity of accents to enable those from all backgrounds and parts of the country to have the chance to succeed.”
The Sutton Report found that ‘public attitudes to different accents have remained largely unchanged over time – with Received Pronunciation (RP – sometimes known as ‘Queen’s English’ or ‘BBC English’) ranking highly as opposed to accents associated with industrial cities of England and ethnic minority accents.’ This was found to be the case when looking at positions of authority across the media, politics, the civil service, courtrooms and the corporate sector. This is despite less than 10% of the population estimated to have this accent, almost exclusively from higher socio-economic backgrounds.
In summary, the research showed that an average of 20% of respondents claimed that accent had direct links to a sense of belonging: “I feel self-conscious of my accent.” An average of 33% of individuals suffered from accent-based career anxiety: “I am concerned that my accent could affect my ability to succeed in the future (e.g. getting into university/getting a job/getting a promotion).” And a shocking 46% have experienced some negative focus on their accent in a social setting with individuals being mocked, criticised or singled out because of their accent.
So, the question is - should we be considering accent in our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plans? It seems to me that this is no-brainer. If we want to ensure that we are being proactive about encouraging diversity in the workplace and not excluding talent, then accent bias should be a consideration.
As a northerner with an undisguisable Cumbrian twang, I am pleased to hear the mix of accents we have across AMS, including in our leadership team.
What I can’t attest to is that the pre-AMS career journeys of each of our geographically diverse team have been without bias. What I can say is that by training our teams and sharing knowledge of lived experiences, we are taking proactive steps to eliminate any form of bias from our business.
Check out the Speaking Up: Accents and social mobility report which also highlights some practical tips and measures for employers and how they can take this forward.