Do hiring executives show bias against people with strong regional accents? A study suggests the answer is yes - job applicants who drop the "g" from words ending in "-ing," or who stretch out the sound of the "a" in "car" and "park," may encounter significant barriers to landing positions that match their qualifications.
The study of 56 hiring professionals by University of North Texas researchers Patricia Cukor-Avila and Dianne Markley resonates heavily here in the area near Fenway Paahk and Haavahd Yaahd. It also holds personal interest for me given the fact that I was raised in South Carolina and have spent most of my HR career in the Midwest and Northeast.
According to a release, Cukor-Avila and Markley created a CD-ROM for human resource directors and others who hire new employees. The researchers recorded 10 males reading the same 45-second passage. Each speaker was from a different part of the United States — Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina, Minnesota, California, Boston, Chicago and New Jersey. Each had an accent common to that region.
The hiring executives listened to the readers and made judgments about them based solely on how they sounded. The study participants were asked for their overall positive or negative impressions of each speaker, as well as whether the speaker seemed educated or uneducated, intelligent or not intelligent, energetic or lazy, uptight or laid back, outgoing or withdrawn, and assertive or docile.
They were also asked to classify each speaker as rough or refined, charming or irritating, and friendly or unfriendly, and to determine whether the speaker's background was urban or rural, cultured or earthy, and advantaged or disadvantaged. The participants then concluded whether each speaker would be competent or incompetent on the job and would fit into their companies' cultures.
The speaker with a California accent was rated the most positively, followed by the speaker from Minnesota, the speaker from Boston and the speaker from Texas. The speakers from Louisiana, Georgia and New Jersey were rated the most negatively.
So while a Boston accent is apparently not quite the sure-fire job boost that a California lilt might be, we still score better than New Jersey and the deep South.
As I hope you all know, every one of us has biases. The important thing is that we are aware of them and how they affect the decisions we make. Give some thought as to whether this could be one of yours, or others in your organization. Stereotypical thinking could cause you to pass up some great candidates in this time when employers are still having trouble finding the right individuals to fill open positions.
What do you think of the study results? Are your hiring decisions affected by language or cultural assumptions? Please share your comments.
Meanwhile, time to go practice my long “i’s” and “ings.”