UNT DIRECTOR OF COOPERATIVE EDUCATION, Dianne Markley (’00 M.A.)
matches students to jobs that will combine classwork with challenging
work experience. She was surprised when an employer in New York
phoned and requested a student with a Texas accent for an internship.
would call Texas clients, and he said, ‘Texans relate to and buy
more from other Texans.’ His reason seemed legitimate, but something
didn’t seem right about screening candidates for a job based on
their accents,” she says.
then a master’s student in linguistics, decided to find out if a
regional accent would have an effect in the hiring process. For
her thesis, the August graduate conducted the first- known study
of job hirers’ judgments on U.S. regional accents. The research,
conducted with Patricia Cukor-Avila, UNT assistant professor of
English, was funded by grants from the Trice Foundation Dallas and
showed that prospective employees with identifiable regional accents
may face discrimination when interviewing for jobs, since interviewers
rate those with less identifiable accents higher.
job candidates, ‘Show me how you stand out,’” Markley says. “But
according to our research, if you sound different from other candidates,
from Jack Becker, associate professor of business computer information
systems, Cukor-Avila and Markley created a CD-ROM program of 10
males reading the same 45- second passage. Each speaker was from
a different part of the United States — Texas, Georgia, Louisiana,
Alabama, North Carolina, Minnesota, California, Boston, Chicago
and New Jersey. Each had an accent common to a large population
within that region. To guard against discrimination on the basis
of sex or race rather than regional accent, the researchers used
only white male speakers.
professionals involved in hiring new employees listened to each
speaker and made judgments about him based solely on how he sounded.
The CD-ROM program asked the job hirers to rate each speaker as
positive or negative on a seven-point scale. The hirers also judged
if each speaker sounded educated or uneducated, intelligent or unintelligent,
energetic or lazy, uptight or laid back, outgoing or withdrawn,
assertive or docile.
U.S. map, the hirers guessed each speaker’s region. They also decided
if each would be competent on the job and would fit into the companies’
were presented with four job categories — positions requiring a
high level of public or customer contact; positions with a high
level of technical expertise but little public or customer contact;
positions involving extensive internal communications; and positions
requiring little technical expertise and little or no customer contact.
They listed the job category that would suit each speaker.
from California had the most positive rating of 5.14, followed by
the speaker from Minnesota (5.07). Less than 30 percent of the respondents
correctly identified these regional accents.
from Texas, though more identifiable, was also rated positively.
Cukor-Avila says most of the hirers were Texans and so may prefer
Texas accents. The New Jersey speaker, with a mean rating of 3.65,
was judged the most negatively. This accent was also the one most
recognized by the job hirers, with 59 percent correctly identifying
says she wondered if the job hirers were reacting negatively to
the “perception of where the speaker was from” or just to the accent.
job positions for the speakers, more than 50 percent of the hirers
selected positions requiring a high level of customer contact for
two of the highest-rated speakers — those from California and Texas.
Only 5 percent selected the New Jersey speaker for these positions.
Instead, more than 64 percent selected the New Jersey speaker for
positions requiring little technical expertise and little-to-no
says the respondents were surprised and dismayed when they learned
that all of the speakers had at least a bachelor’s degree and seven
had doctoral degrees — including the New Jersey speaker.
embarrassed about their answers,” she says.
proving that people need to rid themselves of strong accents, Markley
says the research proves that companies need to develop tools like
the CD-ROM program to help job hirers determine their biases.
legal will stop accent discrimination. But in many cases, merely
having that information and knowing that the employer does not support
it would likely have a great effect in hiring decisions,” she says.