Political skill: explaining the effects of nonnative accent on managerial hiring and entrepreneurial investment decisions

J Appl Psychol. 2013 Nov;98(6):1005-17. doi: 10.1037/a0034125. Epub 2013 Aug 12.


We propose and test a new theory explaining glass-ceiling bias against nonnative speakers as driven by perceptions that nonnative speakers have weak political skill. Although nonnative accent is a complex signal, its effects on assessments of the speakers' political skill are something that speakers can actively mitigate; this makes it an important bias to understand. In Study 1, White and Asian nonnative speakers using the same scripted responses as native speakers were found to be significantly less likely to be recommended for a middle-management position, and this bias was fully mediated by assessments of their political skill. The alternative explanations of race, communication skill, and collaborative skill were nonsignificant. In Study 2, entrepreneurial start-up pitches from national high-technology, new-venture funding competitions were shown to experienced executive MBA students. Nonnative speakers were found to have a significantly lower likelihood of receiving new-venture funding, and this was fully mediated by the coders' assessments of their political skill. The entrepreneurs' race, communication skill, and collaborative skill had no effect. We discuss the value of empirically testing various posited reasons for glass-ceiling biases, how the importance and ambiguity of political skill for executive success serve as an ostensibly meritocratic cover for nonnative speaker bias, and other theoretical and practical implications of this work.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personnel Selection*
  • Politics
  • Prejudice / psychology*
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Young Adult