What do we hope to achieve?
Our three primary goals
To identify whether accent bias exists in professional hiring contexts, and what impacts this can have.
We aim to provide a research-led knowledge resource on the presence of bias and its effects; to address several gaps in the existing research record; and to respond to the Social Mobility Commission’s call to identify implicit hiring criteria that may perpetuate bias in recruitment.
We will also address the need for more precise measurement than in previous studies of the specific effect of accent on estimations of aptitude, and the particular sources of any bias observed.
To understand the causes and effects of any bias and provide an informed, evidence-based understanding of attitudes to accents in the UK today.
We will offer an updated quantitative picture of attitudes to accents in Britain, a precise measure of what specific aspects of accent are the target of bias, and an examination of the real-world consequences of such attitudes.
To test tools, training and techniques that can be used to combat bias.
We will carry out controlled testing of the relative success or failure of different anti-bias interventions. We will use this to design tested training materials for stakeholders, and to provide policymakers with potential remedies for the effects of bias in employment in the UK and elsewhere.
Who do we hope will benefit from the project?
We focus on five major stakeholder and beneficiary groups for the project, with distinct interests and priorities among each group:
National policy-makers will benefit from the first quantitative evidence of the presence, extent, and sources of bias against certain British accents in elite sector employment interviews.
The Social Mobility Commission is the leading national public advisory body that addresses impediments to social mobility; they have recently called for more work on implicit bias in elite professions. They have agreed to be our main Advisory Board partner for sharing policy-relevant recommendations.
Human Resources (HR) organisations
Human Resources (HR) professionals will take an interest in implementing new policy guidance, both within law and in other elite professions. HR representatives have indicated a particular interest in the project’s assessment of the impacts of different types of training intervention.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has agreed to support engagement with wider HR professionals. With a worldwide membership of over 140,000, they regularly advise policy-making bodies and run national training programmes for HR professionals.
This is the group most directly affected by the project, and will be particularly interested in the finer dynamics of regional, ethnic, and class differentiation in attitudes found among lawyers, as well as explanations for different patterns of bias and different ways of implementing change.
Our Advisory Board includes Aspiring Solicitors, an organisation that supports diversity in the legal profession and has a membership of over 20,000 aspiring lawyers and employers.
Current students are the next generation in elite professions. They are concerned with preparedness for job market interviews, but can also benefit from greater awareness of implicit bias as future employers themselves.
The two academic members of the Advisory Board and Aspiring Solicitors will act as points of contact with the university sector, along with law departments, students’ unions, and professional development bodies in universities.
The public is a key beneficiary for better understandings of how language attitudes can impede social mobility.
Results from the nationwide survey of attitudes to accents, as well as basic insights from the study of attitudes among lawyers, will help inform awareness of regional diversity and change in attitudes to accents.