Using Proper Pronouns is Common Courtesy

Many well-intentioned colleagues have inadvertently used language that made people around them uncomfortable: “Hey guys,” to a room of mostly women. Or when a client mentions a friend who is a nurse or teacher, they automatically refer to them as a “she.” In a world where many people don’t identify with the pronouns designated to them at birth, it’s important to get into the practice of using inclusive and gender-neutral language.  This ensures you treat all of your co-workers, clients, customers and any other professional contacts with respect. (For our colleague earlier, they might have used “folks” “everyone” “people” or “friends” …and “they” for the nurse or teacher. See how that works?).

It’s an unconscious habit. We look at someone and categorize them into either “he” or “she,” and proceed to talk about them that way. But a person’s name, clothing or outward signals don’t necessarily tell you how that person identifies. Being misgendered (referred to in a way that assumes a gender other than the one the person identifies with) is disrespectful and can be hurtful. It can make a person feel unwelcome or unseen.

In corporate environments, many cisgendered people (those whose gender is in alignment with the sex they were assigned at birth) are adding pronouns to their signatures or LinkedIn profiles:

Jon Smith

He | Him | His

Director of Human Resources

XYZ Corporation

Sharing pronouns is not yet a common corporate practice; so why do it? It’s a small action with a big impact.

Someone who aligns with the pronouns that the world sees takes very little risk in sharing their pronouns but their action starts to normalize that it’s acceptable. This helps people who want to step out and say “I prefer to be identified this way” but are apprehensive.  It also raises a public flag: I am an ally that supports others who want to step out and identify. It also marks your business as a ‘safe space’ for inclusion and support.

Maybe you’re far from ready to add pronouns to your signature but you do want to be respectful and supportive of colleagues who are not specifically out. What do you say if you’re not sure what to say? Ask.

  • “What pronouns do you use?”
  • “I was just wondering how you’d like me to address you.”
  • “I want to make sure I’m using the correct language to refer to you.”

Just don’t ask “What pronouns do you prefer?” Correct pronouns are not a preference; they’re a requirement.

It takes practice. Make note of and correct your mistakes. More than likely, you aren’t the only one at your job that wants to do better at recognizing and showing respect to others for who they are. However your colleague, employee or friend identifies – he, she, they – encourage them to be proud of their pronouns  and to share them with others as well.

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