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University research: accent bias is disappearing

New research from the University has revealed that, contrary to popular belief, accents do not hold candidates back in job interviews

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Research conducted by the University of York and Queen Mary University London has revealed that having a regional accent does not hold people back in job interviews.

The study’s main conclusion was that accent bias is still very prevalent in the UK, however it also concluded that people in power are able to put this bias aside when it comes down to evaluating candidates for a job. This would mean that whether a candidate speaks in full received pronunciation, or in a broad geordie accent, their chances for the role are more equal than they were previously thought to be.

A reduction of accent bias overall was noted by the researchers, as the distances between the highest and lowest rated accents were smaller than they have been in previous research. Despite this, the researchers still state that there is still an enduring ‘hierarchy of accents’ in the UK. In particular, working class and ethnic London accents were still regarded particularly low - especially to older, Southern, older, upper class listeners.

The research was conducted by examining current opinions regarding ethnic, regional and class accents in Britain and investigating whether there was an unconscious accent bias in how job applicants are judged.

The study found that when people listened to the different voices of job applicants the differences they drew between of the accents used by the candidates were rather small. The research found that the recruiters in the legal profession have a more nuanced view on accents to that of the general public, in that they were able to suppress their biases and see the quality of what was being said, not how it was being said.

In the official statement regarding the research, Dr Dominic Watt from the University’s Department of Language and Linguistic Science said:

“The results of the study give grounds for optimism, in that although accent-based prejudice seems to be all around us in this country, it appears to be possible for people in positions of power to put these biases to one side when it really counts.

“One of the goals of the Accent Bias in Britain project is to develop interventions to help recruiters to understand how harmful accentbased discrimination can be, and how assumptions about language that many people think are ‘common sense’ are rooted in arbitrary and subjective preferences rather than linguistic reality.”

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