A potential employee by any other name might sound as sweet… but what about with another accent? A lot is spoken of recruitment bias based on age, gender or nationality. But the way we speak is essential to the interview process and – if research is to be believed – to whether we’re hired, too.
Ladies and gentlemen
It’s no secret that female voices rule tech. From Siri and Cortana to Scarlett Johansson’s sentient computer in ‘Her’, it’s ladies who voice our most complex systems. Of course, these are disembodied robots whose sole function is to listen and serve; the preference for women, a traditionally subservient gender, should come as no surprise.
Unfortunately, this tendency extends to real life too. Research shows that, even for feminine leadership roles, deeper voices are considered ‘more leaderly’ than higher ones. That’s right, ladies; not only do men sound naturally more commanding than you, but even low-voiced women score above those of a higher timbre.
So if you’re looking to get into the C-suite, try lowering that voice first. Or, you know, get a sex change.
Accents – treacherous ground at best. Ignoring the obvious issues of racism and inherent bias, did you know that those with foreign accents are routinely perceived as less honest than their native counterparts? A study in 2010 found that “non-native speech is harder to understand than native speech. We demonstrate that this “processing difficulty” causes non-native speakers to sound less credible.”
Back in 2016, a national outcry arose when teachers from the north of England were asked to ‘tone down’ their accents by their teacher-training mentors. Unfortunately, the tutors had a point; studies show that accents from the Birmingham and Manchester areas rank consistently lower than others in terms of ‘pleasantness’ and ‘prestige’.
Nobody’s saying you should change the way you speak. Everyone – bar none – should be proud of their heritage and origin. However, if you want to get ahead in business, ‘neutralising’ your accent may well do you more favours than not.
Smoke without fire
Can a person sound truly ‘gay’? Camp, maybe. But actively, definitely homosexual? According to a study conducted just this year, yes – and they may be paid less because of it.
The research, conducted in Italy, concluded that “having a heterosexual- rather than a 'gay- sounding' voice created the impression that the speaker had typically masculine traits, which in turn increased their perceived suitability for the role and the chance of receiving a higher salary. Lesbian candidates were associated with a lack of femininity and identified as gender non-conforming and received less positive evaluation than heterosexual counterparts.”
The research demonstrates that homophobia can affect the hiring process even when a candidate’s sexual orientation is unknown. The effect extends beyond recruitment too; while female respondents were just as likely to want to be friends with both the ‘straight-sounding’ and ‘gay-sounding’ candidates, straight men were less likely to consider those they thought homosexual as potential pals.
The take-away? Whatever the science, deliberately altering your voice for effect is a time-consuming and probably pointless activity. You’ll never be able to relax at interview if you’re monitoring your words all the time. You’re probably better off trusting that your hiring manager isn’t a racist, sexist or homophobe – and will judge you based on your credentials, not the way you say ‘tomato’.
Susanna Quirke writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.