In 2017 Lernia asked for our help to engage Swedes in bridging the gap in unemployment rates between native Swedes and native Swedes of immigrant origin.
We found that one reason behind the gap was an invisible, yet audible, barrier; Swedes tend to determine a person’s knowledge based on how they sound, not what they say. This bias was heard loud and clear in the hiring process.
To level the playing field, we set out to change the way Swedes listen. We created a new norm, a New Standard Swedish (Rikssvenska). The new Standard Swedish was based on voice samples from around the country. Together with a renowned professor in linguistics, we morphed together the samples to create one collective voice. One voice that embraced all accents and dialects – instead of trying to erase them.
The unequal unemployment rates are affected by how people speak
In the end, the voice sample and the results spoke for themselves. The New Standard Swedish sparked conversations about integration, implicit bias and language norms all over the country and in TV mornings shows, discussion boards on Reddit, podcasts, radio, blogs and social media. People were finally aware of and engaged in how they listen and how this bias affects the unequal unemployment rates in Sweden.