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He, She, Him, Her, They, Them, Zim, Xey? Gender Pronouns and Why They’re Important at Work

He, She, Him, Her, They, Them, Zim, Xey? Gender Pronouns and Why They’re Important at Work

For those of us who dismissed ‘pronoun day’ in English class all those years ago as ‘like trigonometry, I’m never going to need to know this in real life’, that day is coming back to bite you. Now, you need to know what pronouns are and more importantly, how to use them.

Linguistics Lesson – What Is A Pronoun?

Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves what a pronoun is. It’s a word used to replace a proper noun, for example someone’s name, like this –

‘Have you heard from Danny in the last few days? He hasn’t texted me back since Friday.’ In this sentence, ‘he’ is the pronoun.

Now you know that, pick the pronoun out of this sentence – My dog Tilly is so energetic. I have to walk her for two hours every day!

Correct, it’s ‘her’.

Gender Pronouns At Work – More Than A Passing Fad

It’s unlikely you were talking about this a few years ago and it’s equally as improbable you’d even heard the phrase ‘gender pronoun’ but now you have and we’re all woke to it.

There is nobody who’ll disagree that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is important, but it’s not easy. Among many others, one step that progressive, forward-thinking businesses are taking is to ensure communications include everyone, and that means using gender pronouns.

They used to be called Preferred Gender Pronouns, or PGPs, but it quickly became clear that a person’s pronouns aren’t simply preferred, they are pronouns that must be used.

Starting the conversation at an organisational level about understanding and using people’s correct gender pronouns helps ensure an inclusive culture where all voices are given equitable power. Steven Huang, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Culture Amp

Slowly but surely, the corporate world is waking up to the awesome power of being able to invite everyone – employees, customers, suppliers and stakeholders of every gender identity – to explicitly state their chosen pronouns and be seen for exactly who they are.

To the vast majority, it’s a blindingly obvious and long overdue move but it has taken literally thousands of years for mainstream western culture to recognise that there are more than two sexes (male/female, or who goes to bed), more than two sexualities (gay/straight, or who you go to bed with) and more than two genders (man/woman, or who you go to bed as).

Sex, sexuality and gender are not binary. Not everyone’s gender conforms to the sex listed on their birth certificate, not everyone falls in love with only men or only women and thanks to the public profiles of people like Caitlyn Jenner and Kellie Maloney, not everyone is ‘only’ a man or ‘only’ a woman.

How Can A Business Introduce Gender Pronouns?

Over the last decade, the worlds of media and popular culture have embraced the concept of gender identity and it’s vitally important this translates into the business environment.

Nothing is more personal than the way in which people refer to us and each other and most usually, that’s through names and pronouns and using both correctly is a basic form of respect and courtesy. Every single person in every single workplace must be afforded that right.

Of course every employee should have the option of articulating their pronoun as they see fit and it can vary dependent on the situation – formal meeting vs. informal gathering, on email vs. in-person, on name badges, business cards and even the company website.

One of the easiest ways for a business to introduce the concept of gender pronouns is to introduce them into email signatures. Doing this acts both as an internal reminder and as an awareness builder with external recipients, but it is a case of slowly, slowly, catchy monkey.

While anecdotal evidence is obviously scarce, it does seem that progressive workplaces are starting to shed outdated binary pronoun norms in favour of gender pronouns. According to HR Magazine, ‘there has been an uptake on including gender pronouns on name tags and emails.’

Companies such as T-Mobile, Asda and Tesco have all allowed employees to add their pronouns to their name tags and more will undoubtedly follow. It’s a very positive sign, so says Jeff Ingold, head of media at equality charity Stonewall.

‘Not only does this help everyone get used to talking about pronouns, it helps trans customers and colleagues feel more comfortable. This is because the language we use is important, especially when it comes to describing someone’s identity.’

Agata Nowakowska, VP of Learning at e-learning company Skillsoft suggests that in order to build an inclusive workplace, employers need to understand how transgender, non-binary or gender-fluid employees may be affected by the incorrect use of their pronouns which can be exclusive and isolating.

She added that encouraging staff to use their pronouns in the workplace is an ideal way to ‘normalise’ them. She said, ‘it destabilises gender binaries and reinforces that we shouldn’t make assumptions based on the traditional gendering of a name.’

In addition, it send very positive signals to prospective clients, customers and employees letting them know that your business is taking steps to be more inclusive.

But Where In A Business Does This Inclusivity Start?

Agata Nowakowska thinks that this type of inclusivity starts in the office of the HR Director. It is the HR Director who is responsible for embedding exclusivity into the corporate thinking and behaviour and by extension, the key messages expressed by the business as a whole.

Dean Corbett, Chief People Officer at west London-based online learning business Avado agrees with Nowakowska. ‘HR and business leaders need to put people first, proceed with an open mind and make room for the necessary changes that will make your work environment a better and more productive place.’ He continued, ‘People should have the option to articulate their pronouns in a way that makes them feel confident to be themselves’.

In this day and age, it’s often the employees who want to improve inclusivity for their trans or non-binary colleagues but they’re not sure how to go about it.

In order for a business to become an ally to transgender, non-binary, and gender fluid employees, it requires an active, consistent and determined commitment to a process of removing all biases and revaluating previously learned behaviours. This type of solidarity will be especially important if customers or other members of staff react negatively to these changes laid down by HR.

The trouble at the outset is that it’s more likely to be achievable at a Shoreditch digital agency that at a City law firm.

Agata added that, ‘Employers should ensure that employees are supported, protected, and are assured that they will not reverse the decision to recognise their preferred pronouns.’ In addition, they should ‘communicate to those who disagree, that even though they might find change uncomfortable, the discussion is not about them – it’s about the holistic development that is part and parcel of building workplace equality and inclusion.’

Contact us today to find out how your staff – and therefore your business – can benefit from a more inclusive, diverse team.

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