Accent discrimination refers to unjustified discrimination against employees who speak English with
an accent. Being northern, originally form Liverpool, this is a topic close to my heart, and one that I’ve been educating
businesses on for many years.
There are many assumptions associated with a person’s accent. Those with strong northern accents
are perceived as less educated, less ambitious, while also thought of as more approachable, friendly,
and happy. Conversely, those with a southern accent are thought to be more ambitious and more
intelligent. Similarly, there is a wealth of bias surrounding those with strong accents from ethnic
And yet, accent discrimination is not protected by the Equality Act 2010. We are well aware of the
protected characteristics of age, race, religion, sexuality, disability, partnership status and more, but
where has the importance of accent protection been placed?
A large-scale project, conducted by Dr Robert McKenzie and Dr Andrew McNeill of Northumbria
University, is currently underway to investigate the judgements formed by others based on the way
a person speaks.
The study measures 300 English nationals’ implicit and explicit biases towards Northern English and
Southern English speech. Analysis will uncover any differences between participants’ implicit and
explicit accent assumptions and identify social groups who may be leading attitude change.
But what many are really interested in is the changing levels of linguistic discrimination that will help
raise awareness of the prevalence and negative effects of language-based prejudice.
A study conducted by Queen Mary University of London in 2020 that focuses on the impacts of
accents in the recruitment process found that “British people tend to downgrade non-standard
working-class accents and selected ethnic minority accents, and upgrade accents historically
perceived as most prestigious. In professional contexts, accent bias is weaker but still likely to
influence how a job candidate is perceived.
The same report went on to conclude: “Raising awareness of accent bias is an effective intervention.
We found that acknowledging the potential for accent bias before judging candidates reduced
discrepancies in rating of candidates with different accents.”
So how can we avoid accent discrimination?
Review your current workforce
Understanding the landscape of your workforce will help highlight any patterns or similarities. Does
your current workforce reflect a wide and varied demographic? If not, why not?
Considering a wider scope for recruitment will help reach varied groups of people from different
backgrounds and different areas of the country. Avoid recycling job adverts and placing in the same
Ensure that all interviews are conducted equally and to script. Prepare questions with a robust
scoring system to ensure a reduced bias from the interviewee. This method will also ensure
individuals are hired on merit alone.
Creating an awareness around accent discrimination will help individuals understand the influence
of implicit bias. Training provides a platform for internal reflection, as well as open discussion, and
ensures team cohesion. In fact, our seasoned HR professionals can provide a tailored workshop to
your business on accent discrimination. Email email@example.com to find out more.