This week new research from the LSE’s Doctor Sam Friedman confirmed that “only 10% of people from a working class background made it into the elite professions.”
This is astounding. Can it be true that any sane person would favour a surgeon with a posh voice! Or an accountant because they wear an old school tie?
In my first job – teaching – the headmaster routinely slapped Dave Rigley, 13, round the head for speaking with an “estuary accent”. When I looked so shocked, he said the lad’s parents were paying so he would speak differently from the way they did at home.(Yes, this was a private school.) I thought it was dreadful. Especially since the boy was always getting punished for the scrawly, blotty mess that he gave in as written work. It turned out he was dyslexic, left handed, and hot with Maths. He became a pilot.
Voice Is about Belonging – professionally speaking
Voice was an issue in my own school days, too – we moved so often, that we never sounded local. We had to work extra hard at blending in.
Employment has been just as complicated. There have been student jobs when the wrong voice could arouse resentment. Other jobs where those who “talked nicely” were mildly exploited. (A stint covering a sick receptionist is a memory that still brings me out in prickles. How was I to know how to do the switchboard?) Then later, working in an industry where in many branches only a handful of staff were born English speakers at all.
You can see that it is helpful to customers who don’t understand English easily if you have an accentless voice and use standard grammar. In the ordinary, non-elite world of employment most of us have two voices: professional and off guard. In recruitment agencies the contrast is often hilarious.
That is all different, though, from the serious question of discrimination against candidates by City and equivalent employers.
When Better Is Worse – in the Professions
This applies in particular to jobs where you interact with clients: Finance, Law, anything that generates serious revenue. Private schools hugely dominate. “Graduates from top universities from a private school with a 2:2 degree are more likely to be hired than those with a 2;1 from a poorer background. It really is boggling. Also note the “Poorer”. Is it the accent that matters, or the implication that THIS graduate won’t be making the right contacts at Cowes?
According to Doctor Louise Ashley at the Royal Holloway College the 7% of students at private schools make up 30% of new employees in Accountancy, 34% of graduates going into Banking and Finance, and 40-50% of graduates going into Law.” It seems ridiculous.
The government has researched the accent issue. Southern Irish is best liked; Welsh and Yorkshire do well. Birmingham and Manchester are out of favour. Anyway, you need a good natural ear to completely change your voice, rather like the talent needed when someone finds it easy to pronounce words well in a foreign language. By contrast, anyone can make the effort to speak clearly and pleasantly. help is at hand
Judy E recognizes that an attractive voice is vital to interview success in any role.
If English isn’t your first language, try –