When Non-Native English Accents Subtly Undermine Women at Work Under the Guise of Positive Warmth Evaluations
TORONTO – Thursday, April 20, 2023 – New research from 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.
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, at York University’s Schulich School of Business, together with Samantha Hancock, an Assistant Professor in the DAN Department of Management & Organizational Studies at Western University.
Past research has generally found that people with non-native accents are seen as less competent, but this research generally focused on men with non-native accents. Hideg, Hancock, and Shen wanted to specifically examine whether women’s experiences with speaking with a non-native accent and the bias they face diverges from men’s experiences. They note 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 considered as the default among research participants.
As part of their study, the researchers carried out three vignette-based experiments that examined how non-native accents associated with more gender-traditional countries, such as a Mandarin accent, affect women’s hiring outcomes in Canada. They found that women with a Mandarin accent were seen as especially warm, which on the surface seemed like a positive finding, as warmth evaluations were positively related with hiring recommendations. Yet, such seemingly positive effects were bound only to feminine industries and not to masculine industries where there is an underrepresentation of women.
“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.”
“Managers and decision-makers need to be aware of these insidious obstacles that women with non-native accents experience because it may not be immediately apparent that an association of accent with higher ratings of warmth may in fact undermine women at work.”
Ivona Hideg and Winny Shen are available for interviews about this research.