One in four professionals mocked over their accent at work, report finds

The problem is also widespread among university students (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The problem is also widespread among university students (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A quarter of UK employees have had their accent mocked, criticised or singled out in a professional setting, new research reveals.

The issue is also widespread among university students, of which 30 per cent said they had a similar experience in the classroom.

The findings, published in The Sutton Trust’s “Speaking Up” report, are based on a survey of 511 university applicants, 1,029 university students, 1,014 early-career professionals and 1,002 later career professionals.

The report, which examines the impact of a person’s accent on their journey through education and into the workplace, found that 46 per cent of working professionals and 47 per cent of university students have been mocked over their regional accents in a social setting.

In the workplace, 25 per cent of professionals said they had been singled out because of their accent.

The impact of accent anxiety was more pronounced in earlier stages of life, with social class differences becoming more prominent among later stage professionals.

In all stages of life, those from lower social grades reported significantly more mocking or singling out in the workplace and social settings because of their accent.

For those in senior management roles from lower socio-economic backgrounds, 21 per cent reported feeling worried about the impact their accent would have in the workplace, compared to 12 per cent of managers from better-off families.

Some university students and professionals have shared their experiences. One civil servant from Liverpool recalled having their job undermined because of their accent.

“In a work context I was told ‘Ha, you’re not a typical civil servant, are you?” the person recalled.

Another, a 19-year-old student from Black country said they were mocked by their peers. “For a couple of weeks, I did have a group of other students mimic an extreme version of a Black Country accent every time I spoke (about anything),” they explained.

The report found that public attitudes to accents have remained largely unchanged over time, and those associated with industricial cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham are typically stereotyped as “working class accents”.

Moreover, ethnic minority acents, such as Afro-Carribbean and Indian were ranked the lowest.

Among university students, 41 per cent of those from the north of England were concerned about how their accent would affect their chances of success compared with 19 per cent from the south.

The Sutton Trust has called on employers and educatioal institutions to tackle biases and stereotypes.

“If gate-keepers favour candidates for reasons of prestige rather than merit, this can lead to a vicious circle, whereby non-traditional candidates are discriminated against, reducing their visibility in elite contexts and further marginalising their accent,” the report said.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, commented: “A hierarchy of accent prestige is entrenched in British society with BBC English being the dominant accent of those in positions of authority.

“This is despite the fact that less than 10 per cent of the population have this accent. In order to address accent bias, today’s report recommends that action should be taken to diversify the workplace so that there is a range of accents within the organisation,” he said.