Beyond the actual content of your speech, how does the way you speak affect how you are perceived by listeners? It's an interesting thought and as we as a society become more and more educated, I would argue that the way we say things is just as important as what we are saying.
“In an American survey 47% of adults found British accents to be sophisticated while 51% thought New York accents were rude. Southern accents were considered nice but possibly uneducated while New England accents were considered intelligent”
Although it should not happen, people judge and stereotype others based on what they sound like and this can have rippling effects on who you associate with, who gets hired for the job, and who gets the promotion. This is a particular issue for professionals who are equally qualified/intelligent/suited for a job but may be hindered by impaired speech intelligibility or the prejudices/stigma associated to a certain accent.
"Numerous studies show that we instantly attach cultural stereotypes and subjective judgments about people’s knowledge and abilities from hearing their accent in speech. A 2011 study by Rakic and others found that in categorizing people, a person’s accent carried more weight than even visual cues to ethnicity."
Now, as an employer, it is important and responsible to recognize this bias and suss out legitimate qualification differences between job candidates. I do however acknowledge that this does not always happen.
So what can you do if you are the potential employee/candidate? What do you have control over?
As a potential employee, learning a regional accent for the sake of improving communication efficiency may be an answer. By learning to modify your accent, you are working towards eliminating that potential bias against you, improving your communicative effectiveness and also improving your self-confidence, which in turn can help you reach your professional potential. So for example, let's say you are born and raised in Tennessee and are applying for a tech position in San Francisco at an up and coming tech firm. Although you may be equally qualified for the position, just because you have a southern accent, people may mislabel you as less educated/less intelligent than a potential candidate from New York. By modifying your accent so that you can avoid that mislabeling, you have some control over the bias people have.
Accents are beautiful and unique audio representations of your identity. They tell stories of where you have been and what you have experienced. They are neither inferior nor superior; however people do have their own biases and if learning how to change your accent to suit the current situation helps, then accent modification can help.
Fields, R. Douglas. "Why Does a Southern Drawl Sound Uneducated to Some?" Scientific American. Scientific American, 07 Dec. 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Kinzler, K. D., & DeJesus, J. M. (2013). Northern= smart and Southern= nice: The development of accent attitudes in the United States. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 66(6), 1146-1158.