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Accent-based bias: is it affecting your recruitment process ?

Where are you ACTUALLY from?

One of the most commonly asked questions loaded with presumptions. 

Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world with 26% of the population being born overseas, and a further 20% having had at least one parent born overseas (2011 Census). This rich variety of cultural backgrounds creates an abundance of interesting and varied accents from all over the globe.

Typically, we tend to think that an accent that is different from our own is quite ‘exotic’ – especially if we’re on holiday overseas. However, when it comes to our workplace, often ‘mainstream Australia’ doesn’t seem to be quite as taken by those exotic accents – even if they don’t consciously realise it. Often we will judge how smart people are based on their accent – even if we do so quite unconsciously – which in turn affects how we hire people. 

Recent studies* in Germany have revealed that an accent plays a crucial role in the way we judge someone. According to psychologists at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, "The accent is much more important than the way a person looks". 

Discrimination based on someone’s accent is actually quite a natural – if outdated – survival tactic

Humans have historically been judging other humans in terms of how they speak, for obvious tribal and survival reasons. Just a few hundred years ago, your judgment of a foreigner’s accent may have saved your life, your family, and your extended community or ‘tribe’. But in today’s modern world this type of cultural discrimination may actually be at great detriment to you, your community, and your workplace.

To infer someone’s ethnic background from their accent, and then proceed to add other stereotypical assumptions to that ethnicity, and finally make an assumption on that person’s IQ level, is largely based on projection, misunderstanding, and unconscious bias.

Accent-bias has major implications for recruitment, specifically during interviews, where the candidate has a key speaking role.

In today’s rapidly changing contemporary workplace, discrimination based on accent may actually impede the success of an organisation – be it a corporation, government department, or non-profit.

Unconscious bias affects how we interpret and rate candidates’ responses to questions as influenced by their accent, rather than the quality of the response, or how they might align with workplace culture. This is why it’s important to use objective measures of a candidate’s intelligence (such as cognitive tests), to ensure that unconscious discrimination based on accent is not taking place.

Another way to objectively ensure that unconscious bias is not affecting the recruitment process is to implement blind recruitment methodologies to ensure that the candidate is being assessed on their skills, intelligence, and abilities to fulfil the role – not their accent or cultural background.

Want to know more? Contact us today to ask us about cognitive assessments and blind recruitment solutions.