Many people are now adding gender pronouns to their social media and email signatures. The practice of adding pronouns to name tags and email signatures is becoming more accepted in the workplace. You might be thinking to yourself: “Why is it important to respect people's pronouns? Who cares as long as the work gets done?” Well, you can't always know what someone's pronouns are just by looking at them. In fact, making an assumption can be actively harmful to someone’s identity and feelings. Furthermore, the act of making an assumption (even if correct) sends a potentially harmful message —that people have to look a certain way to demonstrate their gender.
“Making pronouns a part of everyday life should be normal.”
- Oliva Baker, LGBTQ+ activist and advocate
Asking someone and correctly using their pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show respect for a person and their gender identity. When someone is referred to with incorrect pronouns, it can make them feel undervalued, dismissed and disrespected. If you’re cisgender and your looks outwardly align with your gender, it’s a privilege not to have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender. If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, you need to understand that it can come off as disrespectful, hurtful, and oppressive.
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using gender pronouns in the workplace
When using gender pronouns in the workplace it’s important to never make it mandatory to provide pronouns. You may think it’s being inclusive, and your heart may be in the right place, but some people will not feel safe sharing due to past experiences, fear of discrimination, or other personal reasons. Always make it optional to share, if the person being asked feels comfortable doing so.
“Mistakes happen, but when a person clearly says ‘I use this pronoun’ it’s essential to respect what they are telling us—or if we are feeling unsure, we must practice as much as we would if we had a colleague who arrived with a name that is difficult to pronounce.”
- Meryem Benslimane, Diversity and Inclusion Community Impact Manager at Randstad Canada
If asking for pronouns in a meeting, consider how everyone in the meeting will feel and think about whether or not it's safe for everyone to address their pronouns to a group of people publicly. Asking for pronouns in a large group is rarely appropriate, as you don't know what people will want others in the room to know about them. Asking for people's pronouns should be during one-on-one or small group interactions, so both parties feel safe. Making people feel safe in a one-on-one conversation is simple, just start off by offering your name and pronouns first, but make it clear that they do not have to do the same if they feel uneasy. Again, it's all about respecting a person's privacy and journey.
Incorporating gender-neutral language in workplace greetings is always a good thing to do. For instance, instead of "Hey, guys!" or "Welcome, ladies!", use "Welcome, everyone!" or "Hello to all!" to make sure that everyone feels acknowledged, safe, and included. If you make a mistake and someone corrects you, recognize that you made a mistake and own the responsibility for your mistake. Practice using someone's pronouns so that you can get this right as soon as possible. Having to correct others who misgender them is exhausting for many transgender and non-binary people.
more than one way to identify
Nuance is important when it comes to gender pronouns. People are not 'locked in' to one identifying way. Gender pronouns are fluid and may change over time. Again, context is very important. Someone might feel comfortable identifying one way with close colleagues and friends but feel another way when dealing with clients or colleagues they don't know that well. So make sure that there’s room for individuals to determine how they want to be identified and with whom. Never push that they must use the same gender pronouns with everyone.
With adding gender pronouns to social media and email signatures becoming more widespread, you can be an inclusive workplace by suggesting that employees can add their gender pronouns to their email signature or even their name tag. Adding your employee’s pronouns to their name tags and signatures should not be mandatory, you might feel like you’re doing good by ensuring everyone adds their pronouns, but your employees should be consulted first. If someone feels uncomfortable with adding their pronouns to their name tags or email signatures, do not force them to. It’s all about personal choice and what they feel most safe doing.
Employers need to lead as an example training both managers and employees on what acceptable behaviour in the workplace is when it comes to gender pronouns. So making sure that you are leading the way by setting an inclusive and safe space will make people feel like they are cared about and in a safe space. All of the employer's systems—including human resource information systems, forms, portals—are built on binary gender identity platforms, so it's time to break it down and make your systems and organization more inclusive.
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