As someone who faces prejudice on a daily basis this story fascinates me. But I think it’s the wrong approach….
Sanas is a Silicon Valley startup that is building real-time voice-altering software that aims to help call centre workers around the world sound white American.
One of the company’s co-founders, Sharath Keshava Narayana, says he was inspired to start the company based on his own experiences working for a call centre in 2003 where he faced discrimination for his Indian accent and was forced to call himself “Nathan”.
Sanas has raised $32m in venture capital funding so it appears the software is definitely poised to make a dent in the “accent neutralisation” industry.
As an Entrepreneur, I’m excited to see the competitive advantage that this software brings to call centre businesses. Imagine having a tool that can improve your call satisfaction rates and provide a better return on investment for your clients!
On the flip side, as a Professional Speaker who espouses the benefit of universal human connection, I’m sad this software even exists.
I’m blessed to have been born and raised in Darwin, so when I open my mouth I sound Aussie. Throw in a few references of “the pub”, “mate” and “footy” and voila, I’m in! The problem only occurs when people see my name on an email (plenty of stories of people just deleting emails with subcontinent-sounding names) or in person (YouTube “The Difference Between Racism vs Prejudice”). So I understand the temptation to use any competitive advantage to equalise the playing field, but in this case, I don’t think it’s the right approach.
In Entrepreneurial Thinking, we have a principle called AB3, which means that instead of the usual Option A (Accent) or Option B (No Accent) there’s a 3rd option which is the Entrepreneurial one.
In this case, I think the third option is having the software perform like an accent coach rather than utilise an entirely different accent.
Consider former European bricklayer and masonry expert, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He still has an accent but people around the world can understand him. It’s not the accent that is a problem, it’s the annunciation of words.
Or, as my friend, communication expert Vinh Giang says, it’s your articulation that is the issue. Essentially you are using the physical movements of your lips, tongue, cheeks and jaw which have been programmed for your own language, to speak another language that requires a different set of movements.
I would love to see software that replicates that effect so these workers can maintain their local accent but still be understood globally.
One of the beautiful things about humans is that we have such a wide variety of accents, which contribute to our identity and culture and perspective about the world around us.
As much as I appreciate the desire for sameness in a world of rapid change and ongoing uncertainty, understanding these different perspectives is key to winning in this new era of business. I can’t wait for cultural bias to be picked up by corporate diversity and inclusion portfolios here in Australia. Hopefully during my lifetime.