A personal pronoun is used to refer to the person you are speaking about. Two sets of pronouns – she/her/hers & he/him/his – imply gender when we use them. When we see someone, we typically observe their outward appearance and assign them a gender and use the affiliated pronoun. But this practice is dangerous, as we can absolutely misread a person’s true gender identity and cause the individual great pain and embarrassment. It also sends the message that the way we express ourselves must fit a certain mold or we must fear being mislabeled and mistreated.
Are there other pronouns?
Yes! Besides the gendered pronouns she/her/hers & he/him/his many individuals also identify with:
No pronouns! (Use the person’s name instead)
It is also important to note that some individuals will use multiple pronouns such as she/they or they might request that you vary the pronouns that you use to address them.
What can our workplaces do to help?
- Make it a common practice to list personal pronouns in email signatures, when introducing oneself on calls & in-person meeting, and when creating name badges. If most people are listing out their personal pronouns, it will not draw attention to any one person who might feel they have to list them in fear of being mislabeled.
- Ensure your team is educated on LGBTQ+ communities and terminology. Take time to explain the difference between terms such as gender, gender identity, sex, and gender expression and how these topics relate to pronouns but do not necessarily dictate them.
- The Human Rights Campaign has put together a glossary of terms that can help to educate on LGBTQ+ terminology. This resource can be found here.
- Create policies that outline disciplinary action for team members purposefully misgendering team members or knowingly using incorrect pronouns.
- Listen to LGBTQ+ employees and customers when they make a complaint regarding pronoun misuse and take action.
- Teach your team how to be allies by never assuming someone’s pronouns; correcting yourself, apologizing quickly, and resolving to be better in the future if you accidentally mispronoun someone; speaking up if they observe a team member purposefully mispronouning someone.
- For job applicants and new employees being onboarded, ensure there is a spot to list personal pronouns.
Overall, pronouns are incredibly personal, and they help define who we are. We know that some of these concepts are new to many individuals, and mistakes will be made. But even if you do not intend to harm someone does not mean that they are not going to be harmed. Make sure you are doing research beyond this article to fully understand and be supportive of everyone. Because, as we know, to truly build an inclusive environment, we must acknowledge and accept everyone for their true and unique selves.
About the Author
Elana Powell is a Business Development Programmer for the National Diversity Council. In this role, Elana works with organizations across industry to facilitate courageous conversations around many difficult diversity and inclusion topics. Outside of work, Elana loves strength training, delicious food, and her dog, Peanut.
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