Pronouns Matter. 7 Strategies to Create a Gender-Inclusive Workplace

by Edgar R. Olivo

“Can everyone do a quick round of introductions with your name, job title and pronouns?” This request may seem unusual to make in most workplaces, but for companies investing in LGBTQ inclusion and gender-inclusive workplaces, pronouns have become an important central point. From listing pronouns in email signatures to pronoun buttons worn by retail workers, the business community is getting creative by embracing these inclusive practices.

Pronouns are used in everyday interactions and it is easy to take for granted how much we rely on signals and assumptions when we address each other. Many times, we do not even think about it. In addition, many of us fall back on gendered language to express respect, formality and/or convey a customer-friendly tone.

  • Ladies and gentleman, welcome to our annual conference!
  • Ma’am, I can help you with your purchase?
  • Sir, did you want to see another product?

Do these sound familiar? While most people do not mean any harm by using gendered language, making a wrong assumption about someone’s gender identity or expression and, by extension, their pronouns, can be insulting, harmful and, if done repeatedly, constitute workplace bias or harassment. According to Pew Research, in the U.S., it is estimated there are 1.4 million transgender Americans, and one in three adults (ages 18–29) knows someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns.

Pronouns are deeply personal, much like our names. They are tied to our sense of identity and communicate how we want others to recognize and address us. Consider how it feels when someone calls you by the wrong name despite your having introduced yourself. It can lead to feelings of invalidation and, unfortunately, many of those who know the importance of correct pronoun usage understand the pain and discomfort associated with being misgendered.

Choosing inclusive pronoun practices in your workplace is important to build a culture of respect and belonging for anyone who in some way is challenged by the traditional model of gender identity and expression.

According to workplace advocates, here are a few ways your business can implement gender-inclusive strategies by promoting respectful use of pronouns in interactions.

  1. It is best to avoid using the phrase “preferred pronouns.” This implies that the use of pronouns is optional versus a requirement. Instead, simply say “pronouns.”
  2. In meetings, inviting people to share their pronouns can be an impactful practice. However, keep in mind that an individual’s choice to share their pronouns should remain optional. Forcing to share can lead to anxiety, particularly for those who are not out yet in their own gender expression.
  3. When greeting your groups, choose from a variety of neutral introductions such as “hello team members,” “everyone,” “valued guests,” “friends” or “folks.”
  4. During your hiring process, make sure there are opportunities for candidates to disclose pronouns by providing a list of pronouns and their chosen name. You can also take the lead and introduce yourself in interviews with your name and pronouns to allow others to do the same.
  5. Update your internal forms and records by adding voluntary self-identification on relevant written documentation. Include gender options beyond male and female such as “they” on your documents. When listing honorifics, include the option Mx. (pronoun “mixed”) — this is used by the gender-expansive community.
  6. Display your pronouns on your email signature. Many more companies are implementing efforts to share pronouns in this way.
  7. Additional areas of pronoun display include, but are not limited to, company directories, staff bios, company presentations, PowerPoint templates, human resources and payroll, management platforms, nametags and name plates, Slack profiles, business cards, social media profile, and Zoom participant names.

By utilizing these gender-inclusive strategies, you are communicating your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Regular practice and focused efforts can go a long way to set an important example of respect between your colleagues. It will encourage your team members to seek to better understand and connect with those around them, leading to a productive and harmonious environment.

EDGAR RAFAEL OLIVO is a bilingual business educator, economic advisor and contributor for several media outlets. He’s a nonprofit executive who is passionate about education. He is certified in finance and data analytics and holds a business degree from Arizona State University

Para la versión en español de este artículo, haga clic aquí.

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