Secretarial: How to talk your way out of a job as a secretary...

Will a regional accent hinder your career progress? By Kate Hilpern

LAST YEAR, you may remember, Tony Blair was ridiculed for his attempt to dress down his accent to adapt to a particular audience. And William Hague receives constant ridicule for his Yorkshire burr. Indeed, an accent speaks volumes about background and education and - fairly or unfairly - suggests a lot more besides.

For secretarial staff, who are expected to reflect the image of the company for which they work, the implications of this are enormous - a fact that Jean Briscoe knows all too well. Five years ago, she claims, she was sacked from her telephone receptionist job because her boss didn't like her heavy Birmingham accent. Brummies, after all, are all too often regarded as unintelligent and working-class. Similarly, Louise Yates, the wife of the footballer Steve Yates, claims she was forced to quit three jobs because of constant ribbing of her West Country accent. Some colleagues called her a "yokel" while others even slowed down or spoke more loudly when talking to her. Research by the Institute of Personnel and Development - based on a survey of 30 recruitment consultants - finds that BBC English still remains the accent that opens the most doors. One consultant, Rachel Asquith, explains: "The person answering the phone or greeting clients is often the first point of contact. Just as employers wouldn't employ someone to do that who doesn't dress how they like, most won't consider someone who doesn't sound how they like. Unfortunately, that often means people with a strong regional or working-class accent don't get a look in." Even if they get the job, they may never be promoted.

"Employers may think it doesn't matter how you sound if you're PA to a manager, but being PA to the chief executive is a different matter. They think, `We've spent all this money on corporate logos and posh offices, so we're not going to ruin our image now.' It can make it almost impossible to get a fair chance."

According to Paul Coggle, senior lecturer in modern languages at the University of Kent, however, such attitudes are relaxing - if only in particular industries. After all, he says, accents do go in and out of fashion. Indeed, you'd be hard pushed to find many young people with the clipped upper-class accent of the Forties (think Brian Sewell). Instead, estuary English (think Jonathan Ross) is becoming popular as Britain becomes less class-conscious. "This can be seen particularly clearly within the medical establishment, law and banks," says Coggle. "In the City, cockney is even becoming quite prevalent." But PR, publishing and much or the media, he says, are still favouring BBC English.

Surprisingly, perhaps, foreign accents are popular. "Provided you can be understood clearly, you may even get preferential treatment if you're Continental," says Ashley Mitchell, a careers adviser. "Italian and French women are often seen to portray an `exotic' image as secretaries."

Nevertheless, she claims, regional accents can work in your favour. "For the past three or so years, Mancunian has been considered trendy, while the Scottish accent is considered `honest'. "Mind you, I'd say you've got the best chance of making your accent work for you if you work in the locality." One Edinburgh recruitment consultant remarks that upper- class BBC English in Scotland, "positively incites hostility". Katie Saunders, a PA for an advertising firm, agrees. "I've got a strong Scouse accent and worked in Liverpool for 11 years as a secretary with no problems at all. But as soon as I moved to London five years ago, I found my accent mattered. In one interview, I was told outright that I sounded too `whiny'."

The result? She went for elocution lessons. "I didn't want to lose my accent altogether... my friends and family would be horrified," she says. "But I decided to attempt to soften it a bit." It wasn't easy, however, taking almost a year of weekly, hour-long sessions to get the sound she was after. "But it worked a treat in the end."

However, she found that the way you speak is about much more than accent. "I realised I spoke too quickly and often didn't finish the end of my sentences," she explains. "That made me sound girly and chaotic, irrespective of my regional accent."

Shallow breathing is also a common problem, making women sound young and unprofessional, adds Madelaine Cannon, principal coach at Professional Voice in London. Others don't realise how dull they sound, speaking in a monotone, while an increasing number of women have fallen into a habit of lifting the voice at the end of a sentence. "This may give a relaxed, Australian feel... but it also seems to suggest it has no value," she says.

The good news, according to Coggle, is that younger generations tend to be accent chameleons - rather like Tony Blair. That means they'll use BBC English, say, for an interview, while subconsciously downgrading or changing their tone when talking to friends. What this means for the future is that accents will become less pronounced and, consequently, less likely to be judged.

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable