We Need to Talk About Black Vernacular and Dialect Bias in The Workplace


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African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), also known as Black Vernacular English (BVA) or Ebonics, is a historical dialect of American English spoken by millions of people. Part of our cultural DNA, it is a blend of words and idioms rooted in various African cultures as well as the English spoken in the southern US states, with additional contributions from Creole.

This way of speaking has been around for a long time negative connotations associated with her. People speaking AAVE are often considered uneducated and not considered culturally appropriate for jobs administered by the dominant culture. Many black people are punished for a way of speaking that is ingrained in this country, and yet speaking AAVE, despite their education, achievements, and awards, can significantly affect their job prospects.

That shouldn’t be the case. Speaking another dialect should not negate the professional impact, skills and value an employee brings. Businesses that claim to support Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) while discriminating against language or dialect should reconsider their stance on the issue.

I’m working to change that. I help organizations Break down barriers and integrate DEIB into your business structures with a human-centric approach. I will share how organizations like yours can become more aware of language and dialect bias to better meet their DEI and inclusion goals.

Don’t hire people who “add” a culture because they “fit” the culture.

Many people who speak AAVE are often dismissed in interviews because they don’t appear to be culturally “fit”. I’ve discussed the dangers of culturally appropriate hiring before, but it’s worth noting that language or dialect should not interfere with a person’s ability to contribute, add value, or participate in the workforce.

Rather than assuming that the status quo represents the ideal culture at the company, consider the very real possibility that having people on the team who speak AAVE or another dialect or language can really contribute to the culture of the company . Perhaps someone speaking AAVE can bring a fresh perspective to corporate projects or dialogues, for example. Or perhaps they can engage with diverse partners and stakeholders in ways that have not been successful in the dominant culture. Think outside the box and consider how a person’s language or dialect can actually work expand Your company culture instead of fitting into it.

Related: Avoiding the Sea of ​​Equality: How Cultural Hiring Improves DEI

Never judge a book by its appearance

Although people who speak AAVE are often described as “ghetto”, “loud” or “aggressive”, this is often a misunderstanding. A prime example is Angel Reese, a Louisiana State University basketball player whose popularity has skyrocketed in recent weeks. She had to face dialect and gender prejudice in public.

Angel said, “I’m too trite. I’m too ghetto. I don’t fit into the narrative and I’m fine with that. I’m from Baltimore, where they hang out and talk rubbish. If I were a boy, y “Everything wouldn’t be called a nun at all.” Angel was referring to a basketball culture that has a double standard towards women, especially towards women who speak like them. While some are considered “ladylike” in sports, others are labeled as something else entirely.

Apply the same logic to the workplace. If an employee doesn’t speak exactly like another colleague who represents the norm of the workplace culture, will they still be accepted and feel included? Why should language or dialect get in the way of a person’s workplace affiliation or prevent them from getting hired in the first place?

DEI goes beyond skin and gender. Dialect and language should not create a hostile atmosphere in which Black workers are undervalued, demeaned, or held at the lower levels of the organization because of the way they speak.

Related: Hire Like a Diversity Expert: 5 Key Qualities of Inclusive Employees

Bias towards people who speak AAVE also hurts organizations

Did you know that as fast as possible-growing entrepreneurial demographic Are there black women in the United States? Black women aren’t waiting for culture-biased organizations to accept them — they’ve taken to building their own empires.

Companies that consciously or unconsciously gear their workforce to the applicant’s English dialect end up losing. As previously mentioned, dialect does not equate to intelligence, talent, or worth. Deciding not to hire a qualified candidate because they are proficient in AAVE only forces them to reallocate their talents elsewhere, which can often leave companies with a deficit in intelligence, innovation and growth.

In this sense, bias not only harms the person experiencing it, but organizations as well. That kind of bias holds everyone back. So why not remove the barrier to entry, create more empathy and understanding of the diverse cultures in the United States, and view candidates through the lens of worth, character, and contribution?

Related: 5 Qualities of Black Excellence Overlooked in the Workplace

Final Thoughts

Organizations lose every time they ignore a candidate who speaks an English dialect that doesn’t fit the cultural norm. Race, gender, skills, and other identifiers are all considered important components of DEI that contribute to organizational growth and innovation. But why are dialect and language left out?

The people who are most biased are those who don’t look or speak like people in the dominant culture. Sticking to the norm isn’t always the best or only way. I invite organizations to broaden their definition of belonging and value and create greater awareness of dialect bias.

Human resources and other groups involved in the hiring process and people management functions should implement anti-bias measures to target hiring managers who may discriminate against potential employees because of their dialect of English. The financial and cultural costs are too great to ignore. AAVE is English and should be valued and seen as such within institutions.

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