How non-native English accents undermine women at work

Group of women professionals posed boldly in office setting, stock image

New research from professors at York University’s Schulich School of Business shows that women with non-native accents often get pushed into traditionally feminine jobs with lower pay and prestige, even when sufficiently qualified.

The findings are contained in an article published recently in the Psychology of Women Quarterly. The article titled “Women With Mandarin Accent in the Canadian English-Speaking Hiring Context: Can Evaluations of Warmth Undermine Gender Equity?” was co-authored by Ivona Hideg, associate professor and Ann Brown Chair in Organization Studies, and Winny Shen, associate professor of organization studies, both at Schulich, together with Samantha Hancock, an assistant professor in the DAN Department of Management & Organizational Studies at Western University.

Ivona Hideg and Winny Shen

Past research has broadly found that people with non-native accents are seen as less competent, but this research has generally been focused on men with non-native accents. Hideg, Hancock and Shen wanted to specifically examine whether women’s experiences in speaking with a non-native accent, and the bias they face, diverge from the prior documented experiences of men.

The team noted that a lack of consideration of women’s unique experiences at work mirrors broader trends in the natural and social sciences, where men are often perceived as the default or standard among research participants.

“Our findings indicate that women with a non-native accent associated with a more gender-traditional country face subtle biases that are difficult to recognize as bias and hence difficult to address,” says Hideg.

“Although on the surface it may seem that women with non-native accents experience advantages in hiring due to perceptions of warmth, our research shows that they are likely to be stereotyped and funneled into less prestigious positions,” she adds.