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Revealed: Why your accent could be holding you back | UK News

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A study into the way people judge accents has found that those with traditional working class dialects face discrimination from potential employers – regardless of their intelligence.

Public attitudes to different accents has remained mostly unchanged over the last 50 years, with Birmingham and Indian accents facing the biggest biases.

Research by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) looked at how a person’s accent could affect their opportunities and life outcomes, and found that there is an “enduring hierarchy of accents” in the UK.

The research found that people over the age of 40 were more likely to judge a job candidate as less employable if they spoke with a regional working class accent.

It was a different picture when it came to lawyers and legal professionals however, as they were seen to have a more nuanced approach, and were able to judge candidates based on what they said, rather than how they said it.

Other accents that continue to face bias include Liverpudlian and Afro-Caribbean, while received pronunciation (widely known as the Queen’s English) and North American accents faced little discrimination from employers.

Study head at QMUL Erez Levon said the study shows that “accent bias exists”, adding: “We all have automatic associations with particular voices.”

“Bias becomes discrimination when we allow these associations to govern our judgement of unrelated traits such as intelligence or competence.

“Our work offers hope that people have the capacity to prevent their automatic biases from affecting their judgement.”

Its bad luck if you've got a Brummie accent
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Its bad luck if you’ve got a Brummie accent

Meanwhile, Dr Dominic Watt from the University of York said that despite the evidence of accent bias, the study does show some optimism, saying: “Although accent-based prejudice seems to be all around us in this country, it seems to be possible for people in positions of power to put these biases to one side when it really counts.”

British accent bias became part of President Trump’s impeachment inquiry, when Fiona Hill, a British-born US security adviser, gave evidence on Capitol Hill.

Dr Hill, who is from County Durham and speaks with a clipped Geordie accent, suggested that her accent would have held her back if she still lived in the UK.

Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council
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Fiona Hill said her accent held her back in the UK

At the hearings she said: “This country has offered for me opportunities I never would have had in England.

“I grew up poor, with a very distinctive working-class accent.

“In England in the 1980s and 1990s, this would have impeded my professional advancement.

“This background has never set me back in America.”

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