Understanding Accent Bias and Discrimination

Accent bias is the last acceptable form of discrimination in our society,
mostly because so many people don't know it exists.

In our increasingly interconnected world, effective communication is critical. However, a completely overlooked challenge to diversity and inclusion, and more specifically to inclusive communication, is accent bias. Thanks to Heather Hansen’s collaboration in our 2024 Adaptive Diversity and Inclusion Festival, we touched on this important topic.

Adaptive is a multi-regional and multi-cultural company fostering a rich tapestry of languages spoken in our offices, including French, Tagalog, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, and many more. However, English serves as our lingua franca. This choice isn't about enforcing linguistic uniformity but rather about facilitating effective communication across our diverse landscape of regions and cultures.

This blog post aims to shed light on accent bias, debunk common myths, and provide strategies for fostering linguistic inclusion. By understanding the impact of accent bias and embracing linguistic diversity, we can create more inclusive and equitable companies, communities, and, in the end, society.

The Myth of a Standard English

Contrary to popular belief, there is no one standard, perfect English that should dictate how we speak globally. The ranking system perpetuates the misconception that certain accents are superior, leading to biases and discrimination. It is important to recognize and celebrate the linguistic diversity that exists within our communities and challenge the notion of a single standard English.

Unveiling Accent Bias

Accent bias refers to the subconscious judgments and assumptions we make about individuals based on their accents. These biases influence how we listen to and interact with others, potentially obstructing effective communication and fostering inequality. Accent bias can have profound effects on an individual's sense of belonging and professional growth. By becoming aware of our own biases and actively working to challenge them, we can create a more inclusive communication environment.

Debunking Accent Myths

It is crucial to debunk the myths surrounding accents and challenge the notion of a single standard English. Accents do not determine one's intelligence or competence, and it is important to question our preconceived notions.

Addressing common myths can contribute to this endeavor:

  • There is no singular, perfect standard for English (and this applies to any other language).
  • There is no absolute right or wrong way to articulate thoughts.
  • Every individual possesses a distinct accent.
  • Changing one's accent is not a simple task.
  • Proficient speakers of languages aren't necessarily the best communicators because they have the best command of the language. In fact, they tend to create more problems in international communication because they forget to consider their audience.
Embracing linguistic diversity and recognizing the value of all voices lead to more inclusive communication environments.

The Path to Inclusive Communication

Language education plays a significant role in perpetuating accent biases. Traditional English language teaching often focuses on modeling accents based on established standards, reinforcing the idea that some accents are better than others. Embracing a more inclusive approach that celebrates linguistic diversity and values all accents can empower individuals to express themselves freely.

Becoming more inclusive communicators requires active effort and awareness. We must actively listen, elevate global voices, and provide platforms for diverse perspectives to be heard. Companies can play a vital role in fostering linguistic inclusion by ensuring equal opportunities for individuals with different accents and providing resources and support. By addressing accent bias, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society.

Conclusion

Accent bias is a challenge that affects individuals in various aspects of their lives. By understanding the impact of accent bias, debunking myths, and actively working towards linguistic inclusion, we can break the silence surrounding this issue. Let us embrace linguistic diversity, challenge our biases, and create a world where every voice is heard and valued.

Speaker bio

Heather Hansen, Accent Bias and Discrimination ExpertHeather Hansen is a leader in the field of global English communication. She is on a mission to empower global voices to contribute to conversations that matter – in business, politics, and life. She fights against micro-inequities related to language and accent in international teams and helps companies build communication cultures where every voice belongs.

Heather is an External Industry Expert in Communication for the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School’s Executive Education programs. She has also been named to the Thinkers50 Radar 2024 Class - an exclusive list of 30 up-and-coming thinkers whose ideas are expected to make an important impact on management thinking in the future.

Heather’s views on global communication have been featured in national media outlets across the globe, and she often appears on global podcasts and webinars. Her latest book, published in 2022, Unmuted, outlines her framework for successful global communication in multinational companies.

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