Association for Psychological Science
January 15, 2016
English is increasingly considered to be the global language of business. But people who speak it as a second language are generally passed over for top managerial jobs and executive positions, studies have shown.
New psychological research reveals the factors underlying this glass ceiling. A trio of researchers led by Laura Huang, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, hypothesized that non-native speakers of English are perceived as having weak political skills — which is considered essential for career success. The scientists suspected that this impression of non-native English speakers impedes them from obtaining executive jobs, as well as venture capital to develop their own businesses.
To test this theory, Huang and her colleagues — business professor Marcia Frideger of Holy Names University and organizational behavioral scientist Jone L. Pearce of University of California, Irvine and the London School of Economics and Political Science — conducted two experiments. In the first, they recruited business students of various ethnic backgrounds and told them their school was helping a company gather feedback on its hiring procedures. The study participants were given a job description for a middle-management marketing director, along with résumés and photos of job candidates.
Participants were then randomly assigned to listen to one of four scripted audio recordings of a male candidate interviewing for the managerial job. Each participant heard a native-born White American, a native-born Asian-American, a Japanese immigrant who spoke English with a Japanese accent, or a Russian immigrant who also spoke with an accent. Identical photos were used for both the Asian-American and Japanese candidates, and for the Russian and native-born White candidates.
After listening to the recording, each participant filled out a questionnaire, judging the applicants on their ability to influence others, sense other people’s motivations, communicate with clients, and collaborate with peers and supervisors, among other skills. The participants also rated the likelihood that they would recommend hiring the candidate for the management job.
As predicted, the participants rated both the native-born Caucasian- and Asian-American candidates as more likely to be hired than the men with the foreign accents. And compared to the native English speakers, the non-native speakers were rated as weaker on political skill, regardless of their race and their rankings on communication and collaboration abilities.