You’ve heard of discrimination in the workplace. Gender discrimination. Racial discrimination. Sexual orientation discrimination. Age discrimination. The list goes on. But have you ever considered accent discrimination?
Here’s what you need to know about it.
? What is accent discrimination?
Accent discrimination refers to a type of language discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Writer and educator Pierre W. Orelus put it this way in the Excellence in Education Journal: “Accent discrimination is a systemic linguistic oppression that affects the day-to-day lives of minoritized groups, including African Americans, bilingual and multilingual speakers, whose accent does not meet the definition of Standard American English accent.
This form of discrimination is linked to a dominant sociolinguistic mindset that favors accents socially constructed as standard over others labeled as non-standard.”
Accent discrimination can show up in several ways. For example, accent discrimination might look like:
- English-only rules in the workplace (which can be illegal in certain circumstances)
- Not hiring a job candidate because of their accent.
- Assuming someone isn’t a good fit for a job because of their accent
- Deeming someone as “less truthful” or another quality due to their accent, which does indeed happen, according to studies
- Considering someone unqualified or assuming they lack credibility due to their accent
- Creating a hostile work environment by mocking or making fun of anyone for their accent
- Giving some a poor performance review because of how you perceive their accent
? How pervasive is accent discrimination?
While accent discrimination may not be so evident in the workplace, it is indeed pervasive, according to several studies. And it’s happening all over the world.
One study from Sutton Trust looked at university applicants and young professionals all within the United Kingdom. It found that there’s “accent prestige” for those who speak “the Queen’s English” and those from “working-class cities” experience accent bias.
Other similar studies have been done in the U.S. One study in Maine, for example, suggests that “those with perceived African accents are seen to be the Lewiston-Auburn area archetype of African refugees and migrants…being assumed to have little education, job skills, intelligence, and trustworthiness within the workplace.” The same study suggested that non-white participants perceived to have English language barriers were considered “unemployable.”
Another survey of 2,000 immigrants in California says that 70% of Latino and Asian immigrants thought that California immigrants experienced accent discrimination in the workplace.
And even more, the research adds that women are more prone to accent discrimination than men, as well as those who speak with foreign (compared to regional) accents.
How to stop accent discrimination in the workplace
Accent discrimination can sometimes be a subtler form of discrimination than types like gender or racial discrimination. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not pervasive or problematic in the same ways.
Here are some steps you can take to become better aware of accent discrimination in your workplace and stop it in its tracks.
? Create more awareness around accent discrimination.
It’s common to talk about discrimination in your DE&I efforts, but not all types of discrimination get the same attention. Talk about accent discrimination as much as you talk about gender, racial, and other types of discrimination.
That could mean holding seminars about types of discrimination, including accent discrimination, or it could mean describing it in employee handbooks. The point is to let people know it exists and it’s unlawful.
? Understand that the customer is not always right.
Research shows that call center customers are less satisfied when call centers move outside of the United States. But customer preferences are not free passes to discriminate.
Accent discrimination is illegal, period.
? Standardize hiring and promoting practices.
Make sure that how you hire and promote people is fair across the board. Create objective processes around hiring and promoting employees that minimize room for bias to creep in.
Using applicant tracking systems and standardized performance questionnaires can help you remain objective.