By Joanne Lockwood, founder and CEO of SEE Change Happen and a Diversity & Inclusion Specialist who also promotes Transgender Awareness to organisations
If a pronoun is quite simply a way to refer to someone instead of using their name, why is it so important to be getting it right at work? The LGBTQ+ community is often still facing discrimination, isolation, poor opportunities and even hate crime at work, but not using the correct pronouns has a profound effect on our inclusion in the workplace.
Pride is a celebration of how far the community has come but it is also a stark reminder of how far there is to go in raising awareness and one key aspect of that is identity. Many in the LGBTQ+ community may not align with typical gender stereotypes and choose to use alternative pronouns to avoid being misgendered. For example, non-binary individuals don’t identify as male or female so tend to use the gender pronouns ‘they/them/their’. Using the correct pronoun is showing you respect and accept an individual’s right to be as they authentically and truly are.
Pronouns are a way to affirm ones identity especially because on a daily basis, the LGBTQ+ community face challenges surrounding equality and acceptance. I like people to respect and use my name and pronoun as a woman. Misgendering me and not including me as a woman can make me feel like I continue to fail to be allowed to be who I am and that I am not accepted, validated, included or good enough.
Look at it from a different perspective. Imagine being called a gender that you are not if you are cisgender. No one wants that because we want to be identified as we truly are. Obviously when someone uses the wrong pronoun in genuine error and doesn’t have any bad intention, I appreciate it when they correct themselves and we can of course move on. When that mistake is repeated over and over it becomes a microaggression. Personally I often ask them to repeat themselves and to check that is what they meant but ultimately organisations also need to have a clear protocol, leaders need to lead by example and many business need training around that.
This decade will increasingly see a movement towards the importance of pronouns, both for trans and non-binary equality and to increase discussions about gender, which is something that benefits everyone. Using the correct pronouns for someone or including pronouns in your own email signature or social media profile shows you don’t make assumptions about gender, want to reduce misgendering (accidental or not), you care about how each of us identify differently, and it is an important move towards better inclusivity. At a business level this type of inclusion can represent a powerful cultural shift in organisations and an awareness that is thankfully growing – the need for and provision of a safe work culture.
How your business can embrace a culture of inclusion using the right pronouns:
- Find out a person’s pronouns. If you are not sure how someone identifies introduce yourself to your co-worker or employee with the phrase “Hi I am… and my pronouns are he/him. What about you?” for example. By doing this you will hopefully put them at ease and show your acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
- Add your pronouns to your email signature. More people are adding their pronouns to their email signature to avoid being misgendered, signalling you will also respect the email recipients gender identity and choices or as a simple show of support and allyship to the community. LinkedIn provided a section on profiles so you’re able to state your pronouns and this is slowly but inevitably occurring elsewhere.
- Equally let your staff know they can (if they wish) add their pronoun to their email signature. This means that anyone can clarify how they would like to be referred to and that all genders are respected. Society’s attitude is changing towards the community and respecting pronouns is a valuable way for businesses to stay current as well as inclusive.
- Create a safe space so everyone can bring their authentic self to work. This means that individuals do not need tocensor or hide parts of themselves and as a result the business itself will benefit from better productivity, creativity and teamwork as employees bring their authentic selves to work.
- Normalise discussions about gender. This will help create an inclusive and supportive work environment for everyone, and in particular transgender and non-binary people as it can reduce the burden on them to explain their identity repeatedly.
- Respect there are different stages of gender and sexual orientation. For some sharing their pronouns is easy and they feel confident doing so, whilst others fear discrimination or could be at a different stage of their gender identification and they may need more time. Just be sure that the business culture is ‘all are welcome’.
- Don’t question the use of ‘they’ as a singular pronoun. Be mindful not to question their use of ‘they’ or tell them it’s ‘incorrect English’, just accept and use what makes those individuals feel most included. If you accidentally use the wrong pronouns, just apologise and try your best not to do it again. Awkwardness and confusion around pronouns is unhelpful for progression so be mindful.
- Be language aware. For example addressing an audience using ‘ladies and gentlemen’ is outdated and insulting for many people in the community. We need awareness about contemporary language.
- Change your corporate wording. Traditionally policies and contracts had only two gender options: female and male. Update the wording in all marketing collateral and business material to encompass all gender identities including providing an option not to say, as not everyone is comfortable sharing.
- Celebrate people differences. We know that diversity increases productivity, creativity, curiosity, promotes new thinking, creates a healthier working environment, promotes respect and reduces bullying and harassment.What’s not to like about that?