fbpx
Is it time for Accent Discrimination to be made illegal?

Is it time for Accent Discrimination to be made illegal?

Is it time for Accent Discrimination to be made illegal?

Have you ever felt discriminated against because of the way you speak? Have you ever been told you needed to soften, or even lose, your accent, in order to get ahead in the workplace? Is ‘accent discrimination’ an actual thing?

Well, the French government have decided it is, and have legislated accordingly. Should the UK follow suit, and add accent to the existing list of protected characteristics, or would that be a discrimination law too far?

Having moved around the country a good deal in my early years, I came across a wide range of accents and came to appreciate the incredible accent diversity in the UK, where in some places you only need to travel ten miles or so ‘down the road’ to hear a markedly different accent. Yet, while we might rightly see accent diversity as a cause for celebration, there seems to be a good amount of evidence that certain accents can place people at an unfair advantage when it comes to accessing job opportunities and having ability and potential properly recognised.

This article highlights the frequent casting of Northern actors as servants and this one suggests some recruiters rate not speaking at all preferable to the wonderful Brummie accent. Some of this accent discrimination can be linked to other acknowledge forms of discrimination (e.g. racism and discrimination on the grounds of social class) and much of it also to the (ridiculous) idea that some accents denote a less intelligent person than others.

Here, Jasmine Anderson draws a clear link to social class discrimination and makes a passionate argument for the UK to follow France’s legislative example, but if that doesn’t happen what else might be done to combat accent discrimination?

In her article for Forbes magazine, Accent Bias: How Can We Minimize Discrimination In The Workplace? Pragya Agarwal, who references her own Indian accent and the prejudice UK residents from abroad can face, suggests we all can be prone to unconscious accent bias, stops short of arguing for a legislative solution to accent discrimination, but recommends a number of actions that can be taken by employers to minimise the problem, including training to combat unconscious bias, the development of specific toolkits and the conscious and proactive recruitment of more diverse teams, to encourage the idea that we can all ‘make a conscious effort to look beyond prejudices relating to the delivery of a message to the actual content of that message.’

It’s completely understandable that someone might decide to modify or lose an accent to avoid having their talents overlooked or not being properly listened to, and everyone has a responsibility to try to be understood, as well as to try to understand, but wouldn’t it be great if nobody felt the need to alter their natural accent.

Maybe a legal solution is the answer. What do you think?

Paul's Pricing Guide

Discovery Session
20 minutes - No commitment

Free

Career Consultations -
Includes email follow up & career resources

£50

Job Interview Preparation -
Interview preparation consultation

£45

Job Application checks
Includes free guide to social media networking for emloyment

£35

 

An Approach to Thinking About Work and Purpose

An Approach to Thinking About Work and Purpose

An Approach to Thinking About Work and Purpose

Approach to Thinking About WorkHoward Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and William Damon, are three Harvard University psychologists who worked together to found The Good Project set up with the aim of nurturing excellence, engagement, and ethics in education, preparing people to become good workers and good citizens who contribute to the overall well-being of society.

One of the strands of their work is the idea of ‘good work’. Their thinking is that ‘good work’ is good for society, defining good work as satisfying work that gives us as individuals the chance to work for a purpose beyond ourselves, an opportunity to use and develop our talents and capabilities, and to work collaboratively with people who both challenge and support us. It might be an ideal that’s a long way off, given research that suggests that a significant number of people hate their jobs and I know some of them, but I also know plenty of people who would say they are in work that satisfies the above definition of good work. I’m currently fortunate to count myself in that category too, but like most people I’ve experienced the opposite too!

Gardner, Czikszentmihalyi, and Damon came up with a quick exercise to help in thinking about what good work might represent for us and what skills and activities we might need to call on to help us get there. They called it 3M (nothing to do with 3m the company). I found it very helpful when I first came across it.

So why not give it a try now and see what comes up for you?

Mirror:

When you reflect on yourself, what skills, experience, knowledge, values and ambitions can you identify? Which of these do you want to be part of your future? How might you be able to use them in a future work role?

What things do you want to change? This might be new habits you want to develop, or old ones you want to drop? Or a mindset change you want to make to value yourself more and to help you do something you’ve been putting off doing.

Mission:

Have you identified a purpose that you are working towards? Do you have a mission in life? It may be just to earn a living and support yourself and/or your family. But maybe there are things that you really care about, like local or global problems you want to contribute to solving. Often these broad ideas and goals can lead to a wide range of career paths and ways of working. (e.g. wanting to contribute to improving mental health; wanting to create beautiful and useful things)

Models:

Think of two or three people who you really admire and get inspired by. Maybe someone famous, fictional, or someone you have worked with, or a member of your family. What is it that inspires you about each of these people? What are their skills, their values, and their mission? How do they deal with challenging situations? How would you like to be more like them or follow their example? How might that translate into the work you do or would like to do?

You can check out the Good Project’s Good Work Tool kit here for more interesting stuff.

Paul's Pricing Guide

Discovery Session
20 minutes - No commitment

Free

Career Consultations -
Includes email follow up & career resources

£50

Job Interview Preparation -
Interview preparation consultation

£45

Job Application checks
Includes free guide to social media networking for emloyment

£35

 

Is it time for a UBI in the UK?

Is it time for a UBI in the UK?

Is it time for a UBI in the UK?

The recent death by starvation of Mercy Beguma, an asylum seeker in Glasgow, prompted many to ask; How is it possible, or acceptable, for someone to starve to death in one of the world’s wealthiest economies? With the documented growth in foodbanks, homelessness, and a range of issues associated with poverty, it has become a familiar question, If our existing systems fail to the extent that people living here cannot eat, might there be some better options?

One idea that might help mitigate such tragedies is an Unconditional Basic Income (UBI). The idea of the UBI is that all citizens, whether in employment or not, would receive a regular payment linked to a baseline standard of living, without going through any means testing.

What are people saying about UBI?

There has been an upsurge of interest in UBI amongst politicians, policy wonks, academics, and community activists in recent years. This growing interest comes as a response to a variety of factors; the rise of AI and the fourth industrial revolution and its implications for the potential death of certain jobs; the perceived failures of Universal Credit and previous benefits systems; the documented increase in poverty, and most recently, of course, the Covid-19 crisis, and the redundancies, financial difficulties and job insecurity that it surely brings with it.

In the political sphere, the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas raised the issue of a UBI in parliament at the start of 2016, and there was much enthusiasm expressed for the idea by Corbyn’s Labour. In April this year, Lib Dem interim leader Ed Davey initiated a cross-party letter from 100 MPs calling on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to urgently look at UBI as a response to the economic hit brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. A You Gov poll in the same month found a majority of respondents (51%) sympathetic to the idea of a UBI.

The political traction around a UBI comes on the back of several years of increased advocacy from the likes of the the Citizens’ Basic Income Trust and the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA ), who in 2015 made a strong case for a UBI in their report, Creative Citizen, Creative State subtitled ‘the principled and pragmatic case for a universal basic income’ based on the premise that;

The time is right for an idea which has had powerful advocates for centuries to move to the centre of the debate about the kind of country, the kind of government and the kind of lives we want in the twenty first century. (Matthew Taylor, Foreword)

The idea of UBI: Not only here and not only now

The idea of the unconditional basic income is very far from new in the UK and elsewhere in the world. The first recorded mention on these shores is attributed to Thomas More in his 1516 fictional work Utopia. Such great minds as John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell were later advocates of forms of UBI so the idea has some serious pedigree.

The idea of the unconditional basic income is very far from new in the UK and elsewhere in the world. The first recorded mention on these shores is attributed to Thomas More in his 1516 fictional work Utopia. Such great minds as John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell were later advocates of forms of UBI so the idea has some serious pedigree.

Variations of the UBI idea have been tried or considered around the world. Two of the most recent examples are in the Republic of Ireland and Spain (a direct and speedy response to Covid-19), and other UBI ventures have been tried in Finland ,Germany, Taiwan, Switzerland, Kenya, Canada and the US, where one 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, made his version of UBI (called The Freedom Dividend ) a central platform of his campaign. It might be that such a platform might be deemed too ‘socialist’ for mainstream American politics, but it can also be noted that the US has one of the longest running modern UBI schemes, the state of Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend scheme, started in 1982 on the back of that state’s oil reserves, and still in place now.

Radical solution or utopian dream?

To many the RSA’s premise in Creative State, Creative People might be considered overly idealistic. And while an Irish government Green Paper in 2002 described the idea of a UBI as ‘a beautiful, disarmingly simple idea’, other descriptions of the idea include ‘utopian’ unworkable’ and according to former Lib Dem Leader Vince Cable, requiring ’. “unaffordable generosity and extreme levels of taxation”

Based on all the evidence so far, the jury is out. Earlier this year, The World Bank produced a substantial and rigorous report on the possibilities for UBI, it’s potential benefits and problems, and drew on many examples of trials from around the world. Ultimately, the report didn’t choose a side in the debate, but identified both reasons for and against UBI implementation.

So, what are some of the key arguments for and against UBI before moving onto the significance of the idea for careers practitioners.

Arguments for UBI

  • The prevention of absolute poverty, and the closing of income gaps
  • Potentially reduced bureaucracy around means testing and sanctioning regimes
  • The potential reduction in low-paid and exploitative employment
  • The potential to compensate job losses brought about by AI
  • Supporting people who engage in work that is unpaid but important to community and society (e.g caring for children and the elderly; voluntary community work, cultural and artistic activity, and environmental work)
  • Enhancement of mental health, a sense of autonomy and individual control
  • Enhancing the opportunity for creative and self-chosen work (more on that shortly)
  • The demonstrable failings of the current systems (ideologically and practically)

Arguments against UBI

  • The removal of the incentive to find work
  • The difficulty of filling menial, low wage-but necessary jobs, with knock-on effects to the economy
  • The channelling of funding to people who don’t need it (the ‘universal’ aspect of UBI)
  • The expense involved and the question of how the money is raised
  • A pressure on wage levels, leading to an adverse impact on inflation and competitiveness
  • Replacing one bureaucratic process with another

What’s the significance for social justice and careers practice?

As yet, little has been written directly about the idea of UBI in relation to career guidance. It can be argued that our professional practice is rooted on the idea that the individual should be , as far as possible, in the position to acquire ‘self-chosen’ work that aligns with their skills, aspirations, and values; work that has some meaning for them. The whole notion of career guidance becomes at the very least diminished when conditions force people to accept any work they can, however exploitative and unsuited it might be to who they are. There is a forceful argument that a UBI is a possible method by which that scenario could be avoided;-that of not taking ‘any old job’ leading to poverty and mental and physical ill health, and a wastage of talent that is a loss to communities and society.

Another observation may be that the social groups most vulnerable to unemployment and low wages (e.g. working class young people with low qualifications, the disabled, ethic minorities) are also those who have most to gain from a non-means tested UBI. It could be a genuine mechanism to contribute the ‘levelling up’ that the current government is espousing.. Should it be introduced it might significantly shift the dynamic of many career guidance interactions, allowing clients to explore a greater range of options with a greater sense of agency.

Worth a try?

It’s clear that a UBI wouldn’t be a magical panacea, and experiments with the idea have had mixed results and reactions, but so have existing systems. The RSA’s assertion that the current UK welfare system is ‘increasingly intrusive, complex and ineffective’ is hard to argue with on recent evidence. Perhaps current circumstances present a real opportunity to experiment, maybe with a few local pilots in towns or cities where the developing recession will hit the hardest. Several local councils in the UK have made positive noises in relation to the idea of local UBI pilots. Perhaps the careers profession can be a helpful contributor to this debate.

I’ll leave the final word with Howard Reed and Stuart Lansley , authors of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation commissioned report Universal Basic Income: An Idea Whose Time Has Come? in 2016, who believed the UK should give UBI a try;

Ultimately, a real test of how such a scheme would work depends on the application of a proper, lengthy and adequately sized pilot with a control group. Some idea of the dynamic effects – including on the incentive to work, employment patterns, changes in participants’ well-being and the reaction of employers – may be revealed by the pilots to be launched in Canada and Europe. Nevertheless, these experiments will have their own limitations………. It is certainly time for the UK to follow the lead taken by others and commit to its own pilot scheme.

This post also appears on Career Guidance for Social Justice

Paul's Pricing Guide

Discovery Session
20 minutes - No commitment

Free

Career Consultations -
Includes email follow up & career resources

£50

Job Interview Preparation -
Interview preparation consultation

£45

Job Application checks
Includes free guide to social media networking for emloyment

£35