I have often heard complaints about the glass ceiling facing non-native English speakers. And in my line of work, many new clients decide to work with us when they are in line for a potential promotion and/or are motivated after a performance review indicating issues with communication. It is true that the higher you go, the higher the expectations are that your communication skills be polished. And this is as it should be.

But, while being able to express yourself well and clearly are essential soft skills required at higher levels, having a foreign accent should not be a problem as long as you are clear. Nevertheless, prejudices still exist. Hopefully they are disappearing, especially in a city such as Toronto which is half immigrant. Why should we waste such an amazing work force? Time and education will assist in overcoming biases.

The Glass Ceiling Facing Non Native English Speakers

Posted on Knowledge@Wharton

In an interview this summer, Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator — the tech accelerator that has funded a number of successful start-ups including Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit — made a comment about how he evaluates potential companies that managed to both offend many foreign-born Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and reveal a prejudice common among venture capitalists.

“One quality that’s a really bad indication is a CEO with a strong foreign accent,” Graham told Inc. magazine. “I’m not sure why. It could be that there are a bunch of subtle things entrepreneurs have to communicate and [you] can’t [do that] if you have a strong accent. Or, it could be that anyone with half a brain would realize you’re going to be more successful if you speak idiomatic English, so they must just be clueless if they haven’t gotten rid of their strong accent.”

The remark unleashed a backlash on social media directed at “Silicon Valley ignorance.” The interview also became the lead story on Gawker’s widely read ValleyWag online magazine. (Graham later took to his own blog to make his point clearer.)

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