Maybe you have seen “she/her” or “he/him, they/them” listed in someone’s email signature, Instagram bio, or you heard how Elon Musk posted a meme on Twitter involving pronouns. Or perhaps this is your first time reading about the topic. Whatever the case may be, pronouns have recently garnered a great deal of attention, and for good reason.
As diversity and inclusion continues to be an area of improvement and focus for companies of all sizes, using employees’ correct gender pronouns is one of the many ways to promote a more welcoming and inclusive work environment.
Like personal pronouns, gender-identifying pronouns are pronouns that align with the gender people most-closely identify. Common identities include female, male, and non-binary, which is also known as gender-nonconforming.
Essentially, nonbinary is someone whose gender identity is not entirely restricted to either male or female. However, it is important to note that nonbinary is a term with different meanings depending on the person. For example, some nonbinary individuals identify as both male and female. Conversely, other nonbinary individuals do not identify as male, nor do they identify as female.
Personal or gender-identifying pronouns include…
- Female: she/her
- Male: he/him/his
- Neutral: they/theirs
Importance of Using the Correct Pronouns
Using correct pronouns in the workplace is essential for creating a welcoming space. Employees work best when placed in an inclusive environment where they feel respected. Conversely, using incorrect pronouns can be detrimental to coworkers’ relationships, promote a hostile workplace, and harm business if the wrong pronouns are used when talking with a client, vendor, potential partner, and more.
Pronouns in The Workplace
There are numerous different ways to provide chances for people to share their pronouns. The Human Rights Campaign offers a handful of methods for companies to ask for and identify employees’ pronouns…
- Include a spot on the job application for applicants to disclose their pronouns.
- When onboarding, create a designated place for new employees to document their pronouns.
- If your company has an internal social network or directory, incorporate a spot where employees can list their pronouns.
- Feature pronouns in the email signature.
- Start meetings by going around the room and having everyone introduce themselves. Everyone can state their name, department, and pronouns (optional).
Don’t Assume Someone’s Pronouns
As a society, we frequently assume an individual’s identity based on their name and appearance. However, this heuristic is not accurate and easily plays into society’s stereotypes. The best and most straightforward way to ensure you address someone by their correct pronouns is simply asking. Just like asking someone what their name is, asking someone about their pronouns is entirely okay. However, be careful not to ask someone their pronouns in a setting that could make them uncomfortable or unsafe, such as while in a group. Asking someone’s pronouns is much better-done, one-on-one. Below are three simple and straightforward examples of how to ask someone about their pronouns…
- “Hey, what are your pronouns?”
- “What pronouns would you like me to use?”
- “I use she/her pronouns. What pronouns do you use?”
What If You Mess Up Someone’s Gender Pronouns?
If you mess up someone’s pronouns, apologize. Apologizing is difficult and uncomfortable for some people, but it can go a long way for the person who was misgendered. When apologizing, there are some vital things to note…
- Don’t make excuses for yourself or get defensive.
- Do not start tangent of how supportive you are. This can come across as ingenuine.
- Do not continue to apologize repeatedly. This makes the person you misgendered feel like they have to console you and tell you it’s okay for your mistake.
- Don’t make a scene when apologizing. If in a group, try pulling the person aside and acknowledge your mistake. You can then ask if they would prefer a more public apology.
- Do not make the apology about yourself.
What can an apology look like? Below are two quick examples…
- “Hey, I’m really sorry I misgendered you. It won’t happen again.”
- “I realized I used the wrong pronouns for you earlier. I’m sorry.”
Using correct pronouns encourages a more inclusive work environment by showing respect for all individuals. It also helps individuals feel safe and empowered to be their authentic selves, both in the office and in their daily lives. Remember, it is encouraged to ask people what their pronouns are and apologize for calling someone the wrong pronouns. The better we as a society get about using the correct pronouns, the more it shows we value one another.