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Current research into language discrimination in the workplace

Watch Dr Dominic Watt describe a current research project that explores language discrimination in the hiring process of jobs in the legal sector.
As we discussed earlier, not only do many people report experiencing accent bias in their day-to-day life, but we’re beginning to see how this form of bias can result in very real consequences. Something that we’ve been looking at here at the University of York, in collaboration with colleagues at Queen Mary University of London, is how attitudes toward regional accents affect people’s prospects in the workplace. This project is called ‘Accent Bias in Britain’ - or ABB for short. What we’re interested in is whether the attitudes people have about certain accents, or speech features, influences the hiring process; in this particular study we’re looking at the hiring process in law firms.
Like other sectors such as medicine, a career in law has long been associated with social prestige and privilege. Some people may feel that they couldn’t work in these prestigious sectors because their own background doesn’t match with what they think is expected. For instance, someone might feel that they went to the ‘wrong’ kind of school, or feel unsure about how to present themselves to potential employers who come from a different, and perhaps more privileged, background. Throughout this course, we’ve seen how people can use speech to signal aspects of their own identity. We’ve also seen how people can perceive things about a person based on their voice, even though we know the connection between particular sounds and meaning is arbitrary.
Part of being successfully hired for a job is knowing how ‘best’ to present yourself, and part of that success could very well lie in how job candidates speak during interviews. For jobs in the legal sector, it is vital that employees are seen to be competent and knowledgeable about complex legal matters. If your speech is in some way perceived as being unconfident, hesitant, or even ‘uneducated,’ this would likely be a massive disadvantage in the hiring process. So far, what we’re finding in our research is that these biases are indeed present amongst members of the legal profession as well as amongst the general public. This was no great surprise.
But what is encouraging is that people who work in law firms are receptive to trying to understand the issues more fully and working with us to create a number of interventions. These interventions are designed to prevent unconscious bias in a context where it creates unfairness and missed opportunities for applicants who are thought by some recruiters to speak in a way that is not compatible with a career in law.

Watch Dr Dominic Watt describe a current research project that explores language discrimination in the hiring process of jobs in the legal sector.

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