Pronouns in the workplace are used all the time, yet many of us have a hard time normalizing the question, “what pronouns do you use?” or “what pronouns can I use for you?” or even stating “hi, my pronouns are…,” when meeting a new coworker for the first time. To remove the assumption of gender identity from those we encounter – including your friends, family members, classmates, coworkers or other community members – we need to empower them to share their full selves with us. In holding space for someone to share themselves with us, we validate who they are as they see themselves, rather than who we assume them to be.
The use of pronouns are more important now than ever because more and more people are identifying as non-binary, gender expansive, genderqueer, and more. Research also shows that less than a quarter of transgender and gender-expansive youth feel “they could just be themselves.” When we ask about or use pronouns as a part of our email signatures, we communicate to people that they are welcomed and respected.
Tips for Being an Inclusive Ally in the Workplace
- Pronouns should not be assumed by someone’s name or gender expression (i.e., physical appearance).
- Made a mistake? Don’t make a big deal out of it or draw extra attention to it; instead, make a swift apology and use the correct pronoun(s) moving forward.
- Practice using gender-neutral pronouns on your own time. Feeling comfortable with these terms does not happen immediately and can require concerted effort.
- Recognize that some people go by multiple sets of pronouns, while others may choose to only use their name and eschew pronouns completely.
- It is usually acceptable to use the “They / Them” pronoun set when referring to someone who has not expressly stated their pronouns.
- Proactively share your pronouns to foster an environment of respect and awareness (ex: “Hi, I’m Karen! My pronouns are she/hers. Welcome to the team!”).
To learn more about the use of pronouns in the workplace, read this short whitepaper from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, “Talking About Pronouns in the Workplace.”