I was reading an interesting article today about a journalist, Jessica Evans, with a “Scouse” accent (think Paul McCartney and the BEATLES) who felt that her accent had adversely impacted her career in many ways, both obvious and more subversive. She had moved from Liverpool to London to begin her career as a journalist with excitement. We all have strong emotional attachments to our accents related to our friends, family and identity but the accent discrimination she faced when leaving home caused her to become conflicted about her accent. Once arriving in the big city she had variously been asked to “tone down” her accent when doing T.V. interviews as her accent was not “on brand” for the middle to upper class audience to even worse generalizations at a major fashion publication where her boss said that “people who speak like you don’t really know much about fashion so how did you end up in this industry?”
Wow, shocking, right? While this reinforces the power of an accent, what is the underlying message? This journalist’s speech was completely clear and intelligible. Is it true that you can’t be taken seriously in your career because of your accent?
A recent survey conducted by ITV/ComRes found that 38% of Britons feel that they have experienced prejudice over the way they speak, both on a personal and professional level. Another study by law firm Peninsula found that 8 out of 10 employers admitted to making discriminatory hiring decisions based on regional accents.
Some experts suggest that this type of discrimination comes from our generalized social perceptions associated with an accent rather than the accent itself. In a previous blog, I wrote about whether posh accents were associated with success, education, wealth and intelligence. ITV’S survey also found that posh accents were voted to be the most trustworthy and intelligent while this journalist’s Scouse accent was voted to be the least! These social perceptions can be detrimental to our confidence and our careers and downright demoralizing. This journalist said that she became self conscious about speaking up in meetings and presenting her valuable ideas.
Accent reduction is reportedly on the rise in the U.K.. People are seeking out the help of Speech therapists to “soften” regional differences and to help boost self confidence and career success. Even young boys have been recorded as saying “We sound right scruffy like, we won’t get proper jobs” by ITV.
At Change Your Accent we believe that there is a difference between the valuable cultural identity related to an accent and when an accent is difficult to understand. There are many strategies and techniques which allow someone with an accent to be easily understood but which also let you maintain your identity. Surely in this melting pot we live in the diversity of our accents would be welcomed and not shunned.