Accent Bias in Britain

Examining current attitudes to accents in Britain

What is Accent Bias?

Accent is perhaps the most recognisable sign of social and ethnic background in the UK today. But what impact does someone’s accent have on their opportunities and life outcomes? Are people biased, positively or negatively, towards different accents? More specifically, could accent bias affect someone’s judgement in a professional setting?

The Accent Bias in Britain project examines current attitudes to accents in Britain, and investigates whether unconscious accent bias plays a role in how job candidates are evaluated.

Is accent bias a problem?

Unequal outcomes for minority groups in professional hiring has been widely reported. Yet the role played by the best-known signal of class and ethnic difference in the UK – accent – has until now remained largely unexplored.

Research in the United States has shown that accent bias can lead to unequal access to employment, housing, and education. Despite the legendary history of accent and class in British society, equivalent research on its impact on life outcomes for different social groups is very limited.

The issue of whether accent bias exists, and when it can cross the line into actual discrimination, urgently requires proper investigation.

Our goals

The Accent Bias in Britain project has three main goals:

1

To identify whether accent bias exists in professional hiring contexts, and what impacts this can have.

2

To understand the causes and effects of any bias and provide an informed, evidence-based understanding of attitudes to accents in the UK today.

3

To test tools, training and techniques that can be used to combat bias.

Our research

Our work brings together theories and methods from sociolinguistics, social psychology, and labour market economics. It is composed of three main activities.

First, we carried out a national online survey of attitudes to five regional accents, to examine the general prevalence of accent bias amongst the UK public.

Next, we examined the impact of accent bias on hiring practices in more detail. Focusing on an elite sector that has historically struggled with diversity (law), we investigated whether accent bias interferes with the judging of professional skill.

Finally, we test tools and training and make recommendations to help combat the effects of bias. These target three key audiences: policymakers, recruiters, and jobseekers

This project would not be possible without the support of the following institutions.