Accent Discrimination

December 2nd, 2022

Quarter of employees mocked for accent at work, report finds.

A recent study by the Sutton Trust, a charity with the aim of promoting social mobility, has found that 19% of employees are concerned that their accent could affect their ability to succeed in the future. A quarter of professionals also reported instances of being mocked, criticised or singled out during work situations because of their accent, consequently leading to cases of accent discrimination to occur. 

Within early career professionals, anxiety is more focused on the individual’s region of origin. As a general rule, those from the North of England have higher levels of anxiety and direct experience of accent bias when starting out in their careers compared to those from the South of England or Scotland. Interestingly, as employees progress into their later career stage and into senior management roles, region ceases to be the main source of anxiety. At senior level, anxiety around social class becomes more prominent; 21% of senior managers from lower socio-economic backgrounds were concerned that their accent could affect their future chances of success compared to 12% of senior managers from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

recommendations of the report 

The report recommends that action to tackle accent bias in the workplace is seen as an important diversity issue alongside other types of discrimination, such as racism or sexism. Instances of accent discrimination should be taken seriously by employers and ways to tackle it should be implemented as part of the wider diversity and inclusion strategy of the workplace. Employers should not encourage employees to adopt an alternative accent in the workplace and there should be no expectation that one accent signals professionalism more than another. In terms of recruitment, training should be undertaken to help reduce accent biases or any chance of accent discrimination to take place in the workplace. 

the legal position on “accentism”

In terms of legal discrimination, a person’s ethnic and national origins, for example, as an English, Scottish, or Welsh person fall under the protected characteristic of ‘Race’ and therefore unfavorable treatment on this basis is unlawful. Local or regional distinctions are however not covered by the law. Per Acas; “an employee working in the south of England who feels they are being treated unfairly solely because they are a ‘Geordie’, or an employee treated unfairly solely because they are a ‘Southerner’ with an Essex accent working in the north of England, are unlikely to succeed in claims of race discrimination.” 

Whilst Parliament have not shown any recent inclination towards a new protected characteristic based on socioeconomic background, it is clear from this recent Sutton Trust report that class and its traditional signifiers, such as accent, continue to play a part in the workplace and in employee anxieties about career advancement. 

If you are having problems in the workplace, our team of solicitors would be happy to speak with you.

This blog was written by Michael Green, trainee solicitor for didlaw.

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