‘Open your mouth, you’re at a disadvantage’: The UK has accent bias – but who does it affect most? | UK News


People from some parts of the country are significantly more likely to be mocked or singled out because of the way they speak, according to a study.

The Sutton Trust’s Speaking Up report says that attitudes to accents have little changed – with the standard received pronunciation accent, French-accented English, and “national” standard varieties (Scottish, American, Irish) all ranked highly.

But accents associated with industrial cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool – commonly described as “working class accents” – and ethnic minority accents, such as Afro-Caribbean and Indian, tend to be the lowest ranked.

Ben Jones, 28, from Stockport, said he was once asked if he was from “one of those desolate wastelands where the factories used to be”.

Now a senior leader at a school in Boston, Mr Jones said he was “hyper-aware” of his accent while at university, adding: “It is certainly something that people judge you on – they assume that it means you are not well-educated or cultured.

“The minute you open your mouth – literally – you have a disadvantage.”

Mr Jones is not alone – the study drew on the experience of 511 university applicants (largely 17-18 year olds), 1,029 university students, 1,014 early-career professionals and 1,002 later career professionals.

It found that 30% of university students, 29% of university applicants, and 25% of professionals reported having been mocked, criticised or singled out in education or work settings due to their accents.

‘I don’t hear my accent when I watch videos of scientists giving talks’

Among university applicants and students, those from the North of England are most likely to see their accent as a barrier to success – 29% of university applicants and 41% of students from the north, compared to 10% and 19% from those in the south excluding London.

A student from Derbyshire told the survey: “I am at medical school and very few doctors I have met have regional accents”.

A Liverpool student said: “I don’t hear my accent when I watch videos of scientists giving talks and I don’t hear my accent from lecturers in the field. I feel as though my work won’t be taken seriously if I don’t change my accent.”

A student from Newcastle said: “At interviews, I remember one boy from London asking a large group of people if they could “actually understand [my] accent”, which was pretty awful and not a nice first impression of university.”

‘Hierarchy of accent prestige is entrenched in British society’

Among those in senior managerial roles from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, 21% were worried their accent could affect their ability to succeed, compared to 12% from wealthier families.

Some 29% of senior managers from working-class families also said they had been mocked in the workplace for their accent, versus 22% from a better-off background.

The report said employers should try to have a range of accents within their organisation, and that action should be taken to tackle accent bias.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “It is disgraceful that people are mocked, criticised or singled out for their accents throughout their education, work and social lives.

“A hierarchy of accent prestige is entrenched in British society with BBC English being the dominant accent of those in positions of authority.”


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