Can my non-American accent crush my career dreams?

Hello ladies,

asking here for advice - it looks like I'm getting fired because the company needs an American face, and I happen to be an immigrant from Ukraine with an accent.

Not sure what to make up out if it.

A little bit of a back story:

Last year I've graduated from ASU with the masters degree in journalism. I moved the US because of my husband and I'm a permanent resident here.

After the graduation, that by coincidence happened with the second wave of Covid, I was doing a little bit freelancing in marketing here and there and tried to get a job. Worker part-time for a small startup until in March 2021 I was invited for an interview.

Long story short - I've been enjoined by the company for almost 5 month now. The team was awesome, we all work remotely, my boss was particularly great and supportive. What I was doing didn't go as expected, so we kept experimenting in order to hit our numbers. I did my best, but still feel like the management was disappointed.

Long story short - the change in management lead to my boss getting fired. The reason - the numbers are not there and the company wants someone who is American (the company is from Romania, and he lives in Germany, but Pakistani) and knows American market the most.

I'm getting fired next - the new management feels like I'm not a good face for the company for the activities - webinars, events, podcasts etc because of my accent.

They said everyone in the space (e-commerce) has a representative who speaks American English, so its basically a standard. I'm really decent in public speaking, and my English is very-very good, but yes, my first and last name are Ukrainian also.

Question - how much the accent matters? personally for you - do you pay attention to it when listening to podcasts/ watching YouTube videos?

I can't stop wondering if I a person with American English would be always favored and I just have no chance to compete in this job environment?

thank you all

@Tamala73 I'm so sorry you're going through this situation. Not feeling secure in our jobs is so overwhelming and stressful. This is a tricky situation, and I would encourage you to have clear, honest, and objective conversation with your manager. First and foremost, I think it'd be important to get clarity around the veracity of the facts: Are you *really* being let go? If yes, how do you know this for sure? Has leadership communicated it to you directly, or did you hear it through the grapevine? That would help you assess how much of it is reality, and how much is anxiety caused by uncertainty (e.g. "my manager was let go, so I'll be the next in line").Second, if you *are* being let go, I think it's important to understand the real reason behind it. You mentioned that you were not hitting your goals, and you've been running tests to improve performance. Are you being let go because of your accent, or are you being let go because your performance didn't meet business expectations? Can you have a honest conversation with leadership about it to find out?If you're being let go simply because of your accent (not performance), that's not legal. By law, employers can only let go of employees because of their accent when it gets in the way of communicating with customers or co-workers, or if employees can't understand their job assignments. When that happens, employers must be able to prove how the employee's job performance was being negatively impacted by their accent. Letting an employee go simply because they're not American or because of they have a specific last name despite of good performance is a direct violation of the EEOC. If you're being let go because your performance didn't meet leadership expectations, I'd encourage you to use this is a learning opportunity and motivation to grow. Confronting the reality that our performance is subpar is always a painful process. Especially if you're a motivated, ambitious person. It's a heck of a blow to our ego. But the reality is: as imperfect humans, we'll sometimes fall short. What truly matters is how we react when that happens: Do we put our walls up and get defensive? Or do we take the time to process how much it hurts, and then make a plan to improve?Something else for you to ponder: do they need "an American face" or someone who "knows the American market the most"? Those are very different things. As an e-commerce company, they need a marketing/comms person with a strong knowledge of the American market. It really doesn't matter if that person is American or not. What they need is someone who deeply understands the culture, norms, behaviors, target audience, etc. There's a strong possibility that that's what leadership means, but the only way for you to know is by asking them.To answer your final question: no, an American person will not always be favored. Trust your talent, trust your performance, and get after it. However, I highly encourage you to find environments that are more open to diverse talent. I'm a Brazilian immigrant and have been living in the US for 11 years now. Early on in my career, after not getting a promotion "because of my accent", I had similar doubts: will I ever make it here? Will I have compete on a level playing field? Will Americans always have an advantage over me? And what I found out is that: I can rely on my talent, work ethics, and resourcefulness to open doors for me. Trust that you can do the same.I'll be cheering for you. Best of luck!
Paula, thank you for all your support!I appreciate you putting so much time in the response, it means a lot. You’re right - sometimes it’s hard to evaluate our own performance especially if I know that I did everything I could.Here’s the thing - the company was trying the new communication channel and a new role - there were expectations, but there wasn’t much to be compared with. I know managers are struggling in my industry with similar tasks (I’ve talked to several), tho it’s not an excuse. Originally we agreed to rest the strategy and if it didn’t work as expected - move on to events. I’m located in the US and I understand the mentality and values pretty good - I’ve been here for over 5 years and all my environment is American. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue. I’ve prepared a webinar and recoded a demo. I watched a lot of webinars and I know I did a pretty decent job - my former boss really loved it, I’m a smooth talker and I know how to engage the audience. But…The founder of the company said people prefer American English (he’s not American himself btw) as it’s something people in the industry are used to, so he is opposed for me to be the host of those webinars and basically do any other events for clients and partners. So yes, I think it’s very close to “I’m being let go” for real. Would love to hear more of your story and how did you overcome the performance issues, if you ever had those 🙈
@tamala73 I’m the Product Marketing Lead for a B2B fintech, and I run webinars/trainings all the time. And I often invite our SMEs, many of whom are not Americans, to be panelists on our webinars. We haven’t had one single complaint. On the contrary, clients love that we take the time to explain features and products and answer their questions. However, the company I work for is VERY diverse. I’ve also attended multiple webinars hosted/presented by people with accents too. So, I’ll keep insisting with you that your accent is NOT an issue for webinars and events.If you’re sure you’re being let go, do you think it might be best to start focusing your energy and time into find another role? The job market is so hot right now, it might be easier to find a good position quick. I’d love to chat with you more. What you’re going through right now is normal, and I’ve been there myself. Building a career from scratch in another country is insanely hard, but, hey, we can do hard things! DM me so we can put something on the calendar.
Thank you so much, would love to do that! I’ll connect via LinkedIn
Hi @Tamala73,I'm so sorry to hear about your experience and I feel your pain because I am in a very similar situation. I'm a marketer, I moved to the U.S. from Japan about 6 years ago, and I have a VERY strong Japanese accent. It's a harsh reality that I always have to face but I think people who speak English as a second language have a disadvantage in marketing because marketing is all about communication. But the bright side is, I've been working as a marketer for 5 years in the states even with my poor English. There are companies that see your actual marketing skill, but not the language skill. I always try to be honest about what I can't do. I build a content strategy and lead the content team, but I don't write copy or proofread someone's work. Because the English skill is not my strength and that's why we have team members who compliment my weaknesses. I personally have a lot of respect who have some accent in their speaking because that means that they master the 2nd or maybe 3rd language, which meant that they're highly educated. Getting the first job is the most difficult and it took me 9 months to get the very first job in the states. But trust me, you will find the company values your skills as a marketer (or journalist, whatever your core skill) and your unique background. Good luck!
Thank you for your kind words!And for sharing your story, it means a lot! You’re right about the copy, I’m always having colleagues checking it for a better version of English. Seems no matter how hard I try to master that skill, second language will be always second language) But does the accent mean that much if you’re on webinar or podcast or even YouTube video, as a host let’s say? I’m really curious if people will get turned off just because of the accent, assuming the content and guests are good
Americans can have different accents depending on their region (south, midwest, northeastern) so I find that statement of wanting "American English" kind of funny but I understand what he's referring to.Personally, clarity and enunciation are far more important than accent. Unless your accent is really strong and it's competing with clarity of speech I don't see it as an issue. I'm sorry you're going through this situation.
Thank you for the support! And I appreciate your point of view, and yes, you’re so right - sometimes it’s hard to understand for me what the person from Texas is saying 😂My accent isn’t very strong - no one ever said they can’t understand me clearly and I worked for American companies before and finished my masters in journalism here. But I’m clearly not American and not ever trying to be, honestly.
Hey! Fellow immigrant here (from Russia, btw I'm just a short drive from ASU haha): it's not your accent, your company's new management is just trash. What they set out to build didn't take off as expected, and now they're scrambling and hoping to find a quick "fix." What makes you a strong professional is your knowledge of this space, your experience, your friendliness, your ability to connect with the audience, etc. It's not a big deal if you have an accent, as long as people can still understand you. Think about this -- can *any* American-English speaker just step into your current role and do it better? NO. Because it takes more than being able to speak English to do what you do and do it well. I'm really sorry that you're going through this, it sounds incredibly stressful, but focus on your strengths and all the value you bring to the table -- and hopefully soon you'll find a company that values that <3 Take care!
Thank you for your kind words and support! Much appreciated. P.S. well now I’m super curious where you live? I’m a Phoenix resident now 🙈
I'm in Chandler! 👋
Sorry you found yourself in that situation!When I moved to the US about 8 years ago, I went through the exact same experience. I was hired (with a really low salary) to do PRs and product marketing for a start up, they expected me to be as good as a native English speaker for media and analyst briefings, to write perfect blog posts ... I was working days and nights to compensate, it probably took me 2X more time to write a blog post compared to a native speaker. Then I was fired. Obviously the company was not a good fit for me, and they had really unrealistic expectation about my profile (their loss!). I found a new gig pretty quickly, to my surprise in my new team most of the Marketers were all from abroad with different accents, I was successful there. I am good at my job, I have been pretty successful so far, I stopped doing communication and move toward social media, advertising, email marketing. I share experience at meetups, conferences, and some of my emails are pointed as industry best practices, I manage people. Today I work in a public company where everyone has a different accent, everyone jokes about it and we are all pretty empathic to each other and successful together.I recommend you this excellent book about accents and discrimination: the next steps in my career, I still have one question and I am curious if anyone on Elpha can help. I wonder if, on the long term, as I am still looking to progress in my career, the accent would be a blocker (or an added difficulty) to reach a VP or C level role one day.
@Tamala73 I am very sorry you have to go through this! I am a German immigrant and a coach and I remember how much self-coaching I needed to restart my practice here in America – all because I felt so self-conscious about my accent. I would love to gift you a 1-hour session to hold space for you and brainstorm a few ideas. If you are interested, just message me and I'll send you the link!
Thank you so much for your support! To be honest, I never thought my accent was an issue before this situation, I felt confident and that I'm good at communications. Also, your gift is very much appreciated. What is your niche as a coach?
I'm a confidence & leadership coach for female professionals and entrepreneurs, primarily in male-dominated spheres. (My background is in corporate communications in the German luxury car industry.)