The papers last week carried stories of trainee teachers from the Midlands or the North being told to lose their accents so as to be better understood in the classroom.Granted the study is hardly conclusive evidence of bias against particular accents, given that the number of people questioned amounted to no more than 23 trainee teacher in total. Those of you studying A-level psychology will, I’m sure, have been told that very limited studies do not provide very strong evidence.However, the issue of teacher aside; would you ever alter the way that you speak to get a job or fit in better in the work place? There are certain things that employers are not allowed to discriminate against you based on, such as your sex, age and race. But your accent or your socio-economic background is not what they call a ‘protected characteristic’. In other words, there’s absolutely nothing illegal about an employer discriminating against you based on the fact that you have a particular accent which they don’t like.Regional accents and the BBCIf you were to go back a few years you would have found that everyone on the BBC sounded pretty similar. Now though, you are likely to hear many different accents and regional dialects.What’s the problem?The problem is that some people (rather stupidly) associate particular accents with levels of intelligence. Obviously, this kind of prejudice based on stereotyping is a total nonsense, but nevertheless people continue to do it. It’s not always about thinking that someone with a certain accent is a ‘bit thick’ – It might also be that if you speak in received pronunciation, some employers will assume that you’re a snob and not want to work with you.Why might an employer discriminate against you based on your accent?An awful lot of what lies behind these kinds of judgements is to do with belonging. We tend to associated ourselves with certain groups (like people who share a way of speaking) and by default, we see those who don’t share this feature as ‘the other’, like a threat to the integrity of ‘our’ group.What would be your ideal workplace?Perhaps, it’s a matter of employers thinking more about what characteristics that they want their workplace / employees to be defined by. Presumably, it’s the productivity and efficiency of the workforce that most employees care about and whether those employees are productive with a Black Country accent, a Newcastle accent, or an East London accent really isn’t important.
Would you tone down your accent for a job?
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