by Sharon Florentine

Gender pronouns: Small changes have big impact on workplace inclusion

Aug 17, 2018
CareersIT Leadership

Gender pronouns are becoming more important in the workplace as diversity and inclusion conversations continue.

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Credit: Thinkstock

Building a diverse, inclusive organization and fostering a culture of belonging can be pretty complex. But small changes can make a big impact – including initiating conversations about gender pronouns.

As the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) explains, every person deserves the basic dignity and courtesy of being referred to by their correct pronouns (she, her, hers; he, him, his; they, them, theirs).

“Nothing may be more personal than the way in which people refer to us through our name and pronouns. Using a person’s chosen name and desired pronouns is a form of mutual respect and basic courtesy. Everyone deserves to have their self-ascribed name and pronouns respected in the workplace … the experience of being misgendered can be hurtful, angering, and even distracting,” according to the HRC.

I recently wrote about how to make your organization more trans-inclusive, but I focused on larger, policy-and-process-focused actions. CultureAmp, however, has a great blog post about pronouns specifically, addressing why the issue matters and including some concrete steps you can take to introduce the issues.

CultureAmp’s insight strategist, Steven Huang, notes in the post that an easy way for companies to introduce gender pronouns into conversation is to add them to email signatures, as Huang himself has done.

“This acts as a reminder internally, while also building awareness externally,” Huang says. “Most people have not been questioned about their gender identity. This is such a simple way to show that I care about and respect the people who are in that minority who are questioned about their gender identity. It’s also an acknowledgement of my privilege.”

Allies are important

And this article from CNN highlights how important allies can be in this area; it can be really awkward and uncomfortable for trans persons and non-binary people to constantly call out misgendering. Cisgender colleagues can help by explicitly stating their own pronouns and speaking up to remind others if misgendering happens. Even referring to groups of colleagues and friends in gender-neutral ways by saying, “Hey, everyone,” or “Hey, friends,” instead of “Hey, guys,” sends a subtle, yet powerful message.

Language is incredibly important, and even these small changes can signal that your organization is working toward greater diversity and inclusion. Those changes ripple out over time and can lead to a better, more inclusive world.

As Max Masure, co-founder of Argo Collective, a group created to train workplaces on gender and inclusion says, “Changing the vocabulary is something that is easy, compared to changing society. When you start using real, gender-neutral terms, you prompt society to change over time.”