Guest Blog by Croner Associate Director Kate Palmer
Studies indicate that up to 80% of employers admit to having made discriminating decisions based on regional accents, with YouGov polls showing the least popular voices in theUK come from Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow. Although having a strong, noticeable accent is not a protected characteristic within UK law employers should bear in mind that deliberately mistreating someone due to how they sound, or denying them equal opportunities, can still be damaging for the development of a company.
Arguably, allowing the accent of an individual to influence how they should be treated is less to do with the way that person sounds and more to do with where they are from. Research conducted by Plymouth University suggests that some accents can be considered ‘untrustworthy’ when compared to others, which can give rise to unconscious bias both during a recruitment process and the individual’s employment. Employers may be concerned that how an employee sounds may affect their ability to do a job or cause issues if consumers cannot understand them, potentially having an impact on overall company reputation. It should be remembered that whilst the manager interviewing for the position may struggle to understand the candidate, other individuals may have no problem, especially if they come from the same location.
If this form of stereotyping is allowed to take place the working environment can become tainted with negativity, potentially making employees feel they are not welcome and become disillusioned in their role. Individuals in certain professions, such as teaching, may feel compelled to modify their accents in order to try and avoid this stigma being placed upon them. For example, actor Christopher Eccleston has stated that he felt held back in his career due to his strong ‘northern’ accent and, when first established, the BBC would reportedly only enable those who could speak in flawless received pronunciation to present on the channels. Employees who do not feel like they are receiving the same opportunities as their colleagues are more likely to seek alternative employment, which could deprive the company of otherwise valued members of staff. Employers should also remember that, even though an employee cannot claim discrimination in these situations, they can still raise a grievance for bullying.
Steps should always be taken to avoid issues of unconscious bias arising within organisations. Job adverts should be carefully constructed to focus on the requirements of the job role and not mention specific character traits that might make it unfair for certain groups. It is also highly advisable to maintain diverse hiring panels who can discuss all decisions and help to identify if one member of the panel is allowing any unconscious bias to cloud their judgement. During their employment, if it becomes apparent that an employee is being subjected to unfavourable treatment from colleagues or managers due to how they sound, the company should thoroughly investigate the situation and process it through their usual bullying and harassment procedures.