Last month, I had the opportunity to observe a leadership development training at a manufacturer. The difference between this training compared to others I’ve observed is that this training was facilitated in Spanish.
Although many of the employees were bilingual, the training offered them the opportunity to participate to their full potential in an environment where they did not have to be self-conscious about their English. This manufacturer exemplifies a leadership team who countered accent stereotypes to tap into the potential of all their employees and capitalize on their ideas.
According to a recent Forbes article, accent discrimination is “still pervasive issue in the workplace”. Accent stereotypes can show up in various ways in the workplace, such as, not hiring a job applicant, being passed up for a promotion or not offering career development opportunities.
As a linguist by background, it’s understandable that it takes our brains more time to process accents due to differences in pronunciation. Accent stereotypes can lead us to form negative and positive judgements. Some accents we associate with someone who is less educated, less intelligent and on the contrary other accents we admire and hold with prestige. We unconsciously group people into a specific social class.
Because bias is a shortcut our brain uses to save time, no leader is immune to it. Unfortunately, the immediate recipient of our bias is our team. Take steps to minimize bias in the workplace:
- Acknowledge we all have accents. In the U.S. our accents vary from state to state, region to region.
- Retrain our brains to what we consider is ‘good English’, instead focus on effective communication.
- Deepen self-awareness by participating in skills training.
- Allow for mistakes and teachable moments.
- Be an ally and hold others accountable when bias shows up.
Take steps to enhance working across cultures:
- Commit to fairness and objectivity before making decisions.
- Avoid colloquial expressions, idiomatic expressions, and jokes.
- Ask someone to repeat themselves when in doubt.
- Create a supportive dialogue.
- Enable transcription options prior to a virtual meeting.