Cor blimey guv! Lord Snooty still rules creative industry

etonSnobbery is alive and kicking in the creative industry with nearly eight out of ten people working in the sector feeling they must change their accents at work to be taken more seriously.

That is the damning conclusion of the Language of Discrimination Report, published by Creative Access, a leading social enterprise specialising in diversity and inclusion across the creative industries, and global communications agency FleishmanHillard.

The report draws on a survey of 301 members of the Creative Access community, and a nationally representative survey of 2,000 UK adults based on age, gender, region, ethnicity, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.

The research found that accents continue to be seen as a marker of class, education and background – impeding talented individuals’ access to, and progression within, the industry. Over three quarters (77%) of respondents working in the creative industries have felt they had to change their accents in the workplace – specifically when dealing with clients.

Official statistics state that over 2 million people across the UK work within the creative industries, however, according to research from the PEC over half (52%) of the creative industry workforce is from high socio-economic backgrounds, compared to 38% across all industries.

With social mobility remaining an acute issue within the creative sector, addressing the issue of accent bias is a key step in driving more inclusivity, the report insists.

Recent research conducted by experts from the Universities of Manchester, Edinburgh and Sheffield reveals that class inequalities within the creative sector had not evolved since the 1970s. It highlighted data from the Office of National Statistics that outlined 16.4% of creative workers born between 1953 and 1962 had a working-class background, but that had fallen to just 7.9% for those born four decades later.

Today’s report highlights that many in the creative industries, as well as the UK at large, have felt prematurely and subconsciously judged because of their accent and manner of speech in formal, workplace scenarios.

Some key responses from Creative Access community members, include the fact that 35% were told to change their accents when speaking to customers or clients, compared to 21% of the surveyed general population; 89% believed that others had made subconscious judgements about them based on their accent or how they speak, compared to 65% among the general population; and 62% were taught from an early age by teachers they must ‘speak better’ to be successful.

When it comes to career progression, 90% agree that those who speak in “received pronunciation” are more likely to be hired and promoted within the communications industry; 87% agree there are barriers to entry in comms depending on your accent and voice, compared to 32% of the working UK adult population; and 60% agreed they had to change their accents to progress their career, compared to 25% of the UK population.

Meanwhile, 81% of the Creative Access community respondents code switch (changing behaviour to match their peers) for a number of reasons, most notably to be taken more seriously (67%); 69% agree they do not hear many people with accents and voices like theirs in the workplace; and 89% agree that their voice and accent affect how they are perceived in the communications industry specifically, compared to 41% of the working population.

Creative Access development director Elonka Soros aid: “The emotional labour of frequent code-switching – the change in one’s behaviour to match their peers – remains an issue in the industry not just in how it impacts the quality of the work produced, but more importantly on the wellbeing of employees.

“For those who constantly change their manner of speech, a core part of their identity, it leads to higher rates of burnout and anxiety, highlighting the need to foster more inclusive environments for diverse voices.”

The research supports the findings of The Sutton Trust’s Speaking Up report, which revealed that public attitudes to different accents have remained unchanged over time. Its findings revealed that received pronunciation remains the dominant accent in positions of authority across the media, despite less than 10% of the population estimated to have this accent, exclusively from higher socio-economic backgrounds.

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