I start meetings and introductions by inviting participants to share their name and pronoun. Why?
For a cisgender person (a person whose gender is in alignment with the sex they were assigned at birth), there is little to no risk in sharing your pronouns. When you’ve never questioned what pronouns people use for you, or even thought about the idea of pronouns, sharing your pronouns online is easy and costs you nothing. For a person who is transgender or nonbinary, sharing pronouns can be a bit riskier. For a trans or nonbinary person, sharing their pronouns can spark a lengthier conversation or offensive commentary.
That’s why we ask cisgender people to lead the change by sharing pronouns. It normalizes the process, has little risk, and actually makes for a safer environment for everyone.(Adapted from this blog.)
As recently as the last few years, a request to share your pronoun would be rare, if occurring at all, in most workplaces. As more workplaces invest in 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion and gender-inclusive workplaces, pronouns have become a significant focal point. From pronouns listed on email signatures and business cards to pronoun buttons worn by employees and at events.
Here is an image from an event I attended last week. Pronoun stickers were available to add to nametags. This is a great example of an inclusive practice.
Pronoun use is so embedded throughout everyday interactions, it is easy to take for granted how much we rely on signals and assumptions for statements. “She will take the lead on the project.” “Make sure you call him to let him know the update.” “Will they be part of the meeting today?”
In addition, many people fall back on gendered language to express respect, formality, and/or convey a customer friendly tone:
- Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard and thank you for flying with us this morning.
- Sir, did you want to see this phone or the newer model?
- Ma’am, I can help you at this counter.
Much like our individual names, pronouns are tied to our deepest sense of identity. They articulate who we are and how the outside world should recognize and address us.
Consider the feeling you encounter when someone calls you by the wrong name despite having introduced oneself.
In this situation, most of us are often racked with a sense of invalidation: Didn’t I tell them my name already? Why did they forget? Did they not care enough to know me? Unfortunately, many of those who know the importance of correct pronoun usage are often those who have most experienced the pain and discomfort associated with being misgendered.
Utilizing inclusive pronoun practices in the workplace is vital in building organizational cultures of respect and belonging not just for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, but for anyone who in some way challenges the traditional model of gender identity and expression.
Meetings present key opportunities to socialize pronouns in everyday operations. They can serve as routine mechanisms to build cultures of respect by informing employees—new and existing—of which pronouns to use when referring to colleagues.
Utilize gender-neutral greetings when addressing groups of people. Choose from a variety of greetings to replace gendered introductions like ladies and gentlemen which can alienate staff who identify differently. Options can include:
- All of you
- Valued guests
Ensure there are opportunities early on for applicants and interviewees to disclose pronouns.
Displaying Pronouns- Email Signatures
It is increasingly common to see the addition of pronouns in email signatures, as more companies are implementing efforts to share pronouns in this way. Email signatures are simple, cost-effective ways for individuals to communicate their personal pronouns to colleagues.
Did you Know?
In 2019, Merriam-Webster added the singular use of the pronoun they to its dictionary to acknowledge the increased adoption of the word by the non-binary community. In 2019, the dictionary named they as its word of the year after internet searches for the term rose by 313% from the previous year (Locker, 2019).
While the non-binary community’s embrace of they is a relatively newer concept, the use of they in singular form is not. In fact, they has been used in singular form for over 600 years because the English language “famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or someone (Locker, 2019).”
Strategies for inclusion around using pronouns:
- Meetings present key opportunities to socialize pronouns in everyday operations.
- Utilize gender-neutral greetings when addressing groups of people.
Ensure there are opportunities early on for job applicants and interviewees to disclose pronouns.
Email signatures are simple, cost-effective ways for individuals to communicate their personal pronouns to colleagues.