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The Effect of Non-native Accent on Hiring Opportunity

Glass-ceiling bias is the term used in reference of the invisible barrier that keeps a given minority from rising beyond a certain level in hierarchy. This can refer to gender, colour and creed; however researchers believe this can extend to nativism. This can be seen in wage differentials between natives and immigrants; however, there is no known theory to explain why it happens.

Researchers Huang, Frideger & Pearce (2013) attempt to explain glass-ceiling bias against non-native speakers as driven by perceptions that non-native speakers have weak political skill.

Political skill is a vague and ambiguous term. To some, it involves tolerance of ambiguity, advocacy skill, ability to confront and manage conflict, persistent and effect use of language. To others, it is having interpersonal influence, impression management and more. The point is -- it is a vague and ambiguous; a notion that the authors argue allows employers to have an ostensibly reasonable justification for not considering non-native speakers for executive positions.

In other words, to Huang, Frideger & Pearce (2013), employers can say non-native speakers don't have enough political skill and the non-native English employee can't justify otherwise because political skill is too undefinable. On top of that, none of this can claimed as discriminatory.

The authors set up 2 experiments.

In study 1, from the questionnaire results, White and Asian non-native speakers using the same scripted responses as native speakers were significantly less likely to be recommended for middle-management.

In study 2, from the questionnaire results, nonnative speakers were found to have a significantly lower likelihood of receiving new-venture funding.

In both studies, raters judged candidates with non-native accents as having less political skill (per questionnaire results). Other alternative explanations that non-native accent bias could be explained by (e.g. race, attributions of collaboration skill, communication skill) were accounted for and mediated.

Now, there are some practical implications to be understood from all this. The question is "What do we do now?". Despite legislation banning national-origin discrimination, nonnative accent bias in executive hiring and entrepreneurial funding is a reality.

Huang, Frideger & Pearce (2013) offer 2 options.

  1. Develop an accent more closely approaching the native accent of their work environment.

  2. During the job interview or funding pitch, specifically address the assumptions about assessment of political skill. For example, "I know some might think my accent means that I would be less willing to fight for resources; however,..."

In my opinion, why not do both? I understand it is hard to do both and it will require more time/patience/investment to achieve, but I ultimately think that the implications for human resources management professionals and job-seekers are clear. The only problem is that only one of those parties will actually change their practices in a timely matter.


Huang L., Frideger M., Pearce J. L. 2013. Political skill: Explaining the effects of nonnative accent on managerial hiring and entrepreneurial investment decisions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98: 1005-1017.

#educational #research

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