Working-class applicants are being held down by a ‘class ceiling’ when it comes to recruitment from top companies due to their accents according to a university academic.
According to the report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission recruiters favoured people with certain accents over others, regardless of academic merit, after tests from Professor Lance Workman of the University of South Wales.
Speaking with a Birmingham accent is considered less intelligent or attractive than not opening your mouth, the report suggests.
The best paid jobs in the UK were dominated at entry level by people from more privileged socioeconomic backgrounds, and those who spoke ‘received pronunciation’ (RP) or ‘the Queen’s English’ had a better chance at being recruited due to an implicit assumption that the ‘posher’ the voice, the higher their intelligence.
Professor Workman said although RP was spoken by only three per cent of the UK population, it was recognised as the accent of those belonging within the upper echelons of society.
He added: “In contrast, specific regional accents are often perceived as inferior and belonging to groups lacking in prestige.”
Prof Workman carried out research by randomly pairing accented voices with faces, and asking people to rate both how attractive and how intelligent a given young woman was when reading a passage with one of three accents – Birmingham, Yorkshire and RP.
He told the Birmingham Mail: “We also added a silent condition where participants saw the face but did not hear any dialogue. We randomised faces with accents in order to control for differences between faces. The results suggested that, while regional accents do not have an effect on the perceived attractiveness of the speaker, they do have a significant effect on perceived level of intelligence.
“People ranked the Yorkshire accent as the most intelligent followed successively by RP, silence and then the Birmingham accent.”
Prof Workman said he believed that the actual tone of the Birmingham accent might be behind the stereotypes, which could potentially harm candidates going for top jobs from the city.
He said: “A number of studies have found negative associations with the Brummie accent. This may be related to the flat vowels that are associated with it.”
“Flattening of the vowels seems to be seen as an indication of low intelligence, despite not being supported by any empirical evidence. It is merely a negative stereotype.”
“Despite changes in attitudes of the general populace to RP, when it comes to recruitment to the elite professions, it is clear that many of those with regional accents are still hitting a class ceiling.”