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RESEARCH: How can we equip human resource workers to understand and identify ‘accent bias’?

April 27, 2023

Professor Trofinovich poses in front of a blue background. He is wearing a black jacket and a checkered shirt, with dark-rimmed eyeglasses Pavel Trofimovich

Accent bias can occur frequently in populations where people are speaking a second language (L2), and can lead to discrimination in areas such as intelligence and professional ability. 

Pavel Trofimovich, a professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of Education, worked with 14 students in four-year human resources (HR) management programs across two universities to examine their perceptions of accent bias, which can often be subconscious.   

"What do students in human resource management know about accent bias?", published in the journal Language Awareness, revealed the students had a nuanced understanding of language bias - from recognizing it, to expressing sensitivity with regards to the topic, and understanding the importance of being a generous listener when communicating with L2 individuals. 

Results highlight the importance of training HR professionals to recognize and eliminate any latent language bias in workplaces.  

By providing HR students and personnel with these important skills, we can help reduce employment barriers for individuals with L2 accents. 

The team included Mary Grantham O’Brien, a professor in the School of Languages, Linguistics, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Calgary, along with graduate students Anamaria Bodea and Thao-Nguyen Nina Le from Concordia University, and Masako Shimada and Cesar Teló, from the University of Calgary.

Overall, results suggested this kind of early training for human resources workers can yield benefits when it comes to eliminating accent bias in the workplace. 

The findings of this research, supported through SSHRC funding, have been disseminated to HR specialists in French-language and English-language professional publications.

Learn more about Pavel Trofimovich’s work here.

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