Royal Pharmaceutical Society

How accent bias can affect your career

portrait image of Marvin MunzuBy Marvin Munzu, Co-founder and Managing Director of Preregshortcuts Ltd

The pharmacy profession is incredibly diverse, comprising professionals from various cultural backgrounds and languages. While this diversity brings advantages like creativity and a broader perspective, it also introduces a challenge often overlooked: accent bias.

What is accent bias?

Accent bias involves unfairly judging individuals based on their pronunciation rather than their qualifications. It affects and the pharmacy team and pharmacy students too. It’s often an unconscious bias which can lead to missed opportunities, hinder diversity, and negatively impact individual careers.

What accents are preferred over others?

According to The Sutton Trust report Speaking Up: accents and social mobility, public attitudes to different accents have remained largely unchanged over time. The standard ‘Received Pronunciation’ accent, French-accented English, and ‘national’ standard varieties (Scottish, American, Southern Irish) all rank highly, while accents associated with industrial cities of England, like Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham (commonly stereotyped as ‘working class accents’) and ethnic minority accents (Afro-Caribbean, Indian) are the lowest ranked.

How does accent bias affect your career?

Accent bias primarily impacts the recruitment process, where candidates with non-native accents are often disadvantaged. Employers may unconsciously perceive them as less competent, even if their skills are exceptional. This bias undermines workplace diversity and prevents highly talented individuals from thriving.

Accent bias can also limit career advancement opportunities. Pharmacy colleagues may be overlooked for promotions or leadership positions due to accent bias, creating a glass ceiling that stifles their potential.

Pharmacy colleagues with non-native accents can face difficulties in communication, hindering their collaboration with colleagues, patients, or superiors. Misunderstandings stemming from accent differences can lead to errors, frustration, and decreased confidence, affecting job performance.

Moreover, accent bias influences social interactions within the pharmacy workplace. Those with non-native accents may feel excluded or undervalued, reducing job satisfaction and discouraging participation in meetings, sharing opinions, or pursuing leadership roles.

Being mocked for your accent

The report also found 29 per cent of young people applying to university and 30 per cent of university students reported being mocked, criticised or singled out in education settings as a result of their accents. A quarter of professionals reported the same thing in work settings. 

What can pharmacy teams and pharmacy schools do?

  • Awareness and training: Implement diversity and inclusion training to raise awareness of accent bias and provide strategies for addressing it.
  • Language and communication support: Communication skills workshops can help boost confidence and effectiveness at work.
  • Promote inclusive culture: Foster an inclusive workplace culture where all employees and pharmacy students, regardless of their accents, feel valued and included. Encourage open discussions about diversity and bias.
  • Fair evaluation: Ensure performance evaluations and promotions are based on skills, qualifications, and contributions, rather than accents.
  • Leadership commitment: Leadership should set an example by embracing diversity and actively working to eliminate accent bias.

Accent bias is a subtle but significant form of discrimination that affects both individuals and the pharmacy workforce. To harness the full potential of their diverse talent pool, workplaces must raise awareness, offer support, and promote an inclusive culture. Embracing linguistic diversity benefits all pharmacy teams and drives innovation and success in the modern pharmacy environment. It's time for us all to recognise and value every voice, regardless of its accent.

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