Ethnic accents ‘face negative bias’


Brummies were rooted at the bottom again, alongside Cockney, Liverpudlian, Essex and ethnic minority accents. 
(Photo: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Brummies were rooted at the bottom again, alongside Cockney, Liverpudlian, Essex and ethnic minority accents. (Photo: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Bias exists against people with working class or regional accent, a new government-funded study has found.

Researchers at Queen Mary University in London found that those aged over 40 were likely to judge job candidates as less hireable if they spoke with regional working class accents.

By replicating a study first done 50 years ago, experts found that those over 40 judged intelligence of others by the accents they used.

Devyani Sharma, professor of Sociolinguistics, asked a group of volunteers to listen to 38 different British accents to see which attracted a negative bias.

According to Prof Sharma, British working class and ethnic accents still faced negative bias half a century on.

The Brummie accent, from Birmingham and the West Midlands, came out bottom.

“People were more careful about letting accent biases affect whether they thought the person was a good fit for the job,” said Professor Sharma, whose research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

“Younger people didn’t judge accents differently at all. By contrast, those above the age of 40 judged speakers of working class accents to be less competent and less hireable, even though all candidates gave exactly the same responses.

“It’s tempting to interpret this age pattern as a decline in bias over time, but the same age pattern was found 15 years ago. This suggests that our attitudes become more conventional as we age. Bias was also greater among people who grew up in southern England and were from a higher social class.”

Many who were interviewed for the study said that the interview process was only one of the hurdles.

“A working class or ethnic minority applicant may clear all of these hurdles and get that job, only to find that interactions in the workplace are a source of difficulty, impeding their ability to rise in seniority in the firm,” said Professor Sharma.

“Lawyers themselves reported such issues to us. In informal feedback, one told us that he had been told at interview that he would need elocution lessons before he could be introduced to a client.”