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Gender Identity and Pronouns…It Matters

Gender Identity and Pronouns…It Matters

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are essential for creating a successful and thriving workplace.

Before figuring out how to use gender pronouns, it is important to understand that sex, gender and gender identity are different terms, although they are often used interchangeably.  Sex refers to a person’s biological status at birth and is usually assigned on the basis of anatomy.  Gender is a broader term that is often categorized as male, female or nonbinary. Gender identity is a component of gender that describes a person’s psychological sense of their gender.

Whether we realize it or not, people frequently refer to us using pronouns when speaking about us. Often, when speaking of a singular human in the third person, these pronouns have a gender implied such as “he/him” to refer to a male or “she/her” to refer to a female. These associations are not always accurate or helpful.

Often, people make assumptions about the gender of another person based on the person’s appearance or name. These assumptions aren’t always correct, and the act of assuming (even if correct) sends a potentially harmful message that people must look a certain way to demonstrate the gender that they are or are not.

Using someone’s correct personal pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment, just as using a person’s name can be a way to respect them. Just as it can be offensive or even harassing to make up a nickname for someone and call them that nickname against their will, it can be offensive or harassing to guess at someone’s pronouns and refer to them using those pronouns if that is not how that person wants to be known. Or, worse, actively choosing to ignore the pronouns someone has stated that they go by could imply the oppressive notion that intersex, transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people do not or should not exist.

The Human Rights Campaign provides the following definitions:

  • Intersex – persons born with a variety of differences in their sex traits and reproductive anatomy.
  • Transgender – an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity and/or expression is different from their cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned to at birth.
  • Nonbinary – persons who do not identify exclusively as a man or a woman.
  • Gender nonconforming – persons whose behavior or appearance does not conform to cultural and social expectations related to their gender.

When we refer to “personal” or “gender” pronouns, we don’t mean that these pronouns are necessarily private information because generally they are not.  We mean that they are pronouns referring to a unique and individual person.

Global use of gender pronouns

Gender pronouns can vary across different cultures and languages.  In some cultures, and languages, gender is a more central aspect of language and may have different pronoun systems or grammatical constructions that reflect gender.  In others, gender is less emphasized, and pronouns may be gender-neutral or have fewer distinctions.

While there is still much variation in how gender is expressed in different cultures, the recognition and affirmation of diverse gender identities is becoming increasingly important and valued globally.

What are gender pronouns and why do they matter

Gender pronouns are the words used to refer to someone in the third person.  They typically indicate the gender of the person being referred to such as:

  • He/him: Male-identified individuals
  • She/her: Female-identified individuals
  • They/Them: Individuals who identify as non-binary or genderqueer, or for individuals whose gender is unknown or unspecified

Gender pronouns can also include other pronouns that are used to describe gender identity such as:

  • Ze/hir: Individuals who identify as non-binary or genderqueer, as an alternative to gendered pronouns
  • Xe/xem: Alternative set of gender-neutral pronouns

Gender pronouns are essential to gender identity, as they help to align with gender.  Using current gender pronouns demonstrates respect and inclusion for the gender identity that others prefer.

Gender Pronouns in the workplace

Gender pronouns in the workplace are evolving concepts.  Many people are learning about gender pronouns for the first time and understanding how to correctly use them in the workplace and beyond.  It is important to stress to your workforce that using correct pronouns sets a positive example for the workplace, as correctly using gender pronouns helps create a more inclusive and respectful workplace culture for all employees.  Remember, by using preferred gender pronouns, you are affirming another person’s sense of self.

You can’t always know what gender pronouns someone uses just by looking at them.  When an individual is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected and can contribute to feelings of exclusion, bias and disrespect.  It can also create a hostile work environment, which can adversely impact engagement, morale, productivity and job satisfaction.

If you make a mistake and use the wrong pronoun, apologize and correct yourself.  It is essential to show you are committed to using the correct pronouns.  The most significant takeaway is to have a sincere and positive intention. When in doubt, it is best to ask someone what their preferred gender pronouns are and to use them consistently and respectfully.

Using the correct gender pronouns is a simple but powerful way to promote a civil and respectful workplace and demonstrates the value of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.  Organizations can implement HR and DEI initiatives that focus on policies and training that promote the use of preferred gender pronouns and training employees on the importance of inclusive language.  This can help to create a workplace that is welcoming and supportive for all employees, regardless of their gender identity.

Gender Pronouns and the legal Landscape in the workplace

As organizations strive to create inclusive and non-discriminatory workplaces that do not tolerate harassment or disrespect of any kind, using an employee’s requested pronouns not only conveys respect but also helps organizations avoid potential legal issues such as harassment and discrimination.  Organizations that foster an inclusive environment for all workers can reduce their risk of facing employment law related complaints.

As the legal landscape continues to take shape, consider the following best practices for creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive work environment:

  • Refer to employees by the name and gender pronoun with which they identify. This promotes a culture of respect for all employees.  An accidental misuse of a transgender employee’s preferred name and/or gender pronoun may or may not violate any state or federal law.  However, intentional and repeated transgressions raise the likelihood that a harassment claim may arise, because such offenses may establish a hostile work environment.
  • Address teasing, offhand comments, and other isolated incidents immediately.
  • Normalize the conversation around pronouns and create opportunities for all employees to Speak Up. Respect everyone’s privacy.  Not everyone is comfortable sharing their pronouns publicly.  Normalizing a conversation is different than being intrusive.  Operate with care and empathy.
  • Train and educate managers to recognize the significance of these issues and their role as leaders in fostering a safe and legally compliant work environment.  Providing additional DEI training to all employees can be beneficial.

Gender Inclusive Language in the Workplace

Deloitte’s recent LGBTQ+ Inclusion at Work global survey found that visible use of gender pronouns in the workplace made employees who identify as LGBTQ feel psychologically safe about being out at work.

Gender inclusive language paves the way for a healthy workplace culture.  To promote the correct usage of gender pronouns in the workplace, organizations can encourage employees, regardless of gender identity, to put their correct pronouns I their email signature, name tags, and other communication material.  Such practices will make a workplace seem safe and empower everyone to present their true selves at work without fear.  It also encourages diversity, equity and inclusion related practices.

Syntrio Can Help

Syntrio has been a global leader in diversity, equity and inclusion education or over 20 years. We welcome the opportunity to demonstrate how our products can allow your leaders and employees to be more inclusive when it comes to proper usage of pronouns in the workplace and tolerance and respect for persons of all gender identities in the workplace. Contact a member of our staff today to see how we can help you protect your workforce from mistakes or intentional incidents that may damage the positive workplace culture you work so hard to achieve. A member of our staff would be happy to discuss with you the wide variety of options Syntrio has available to educate your workforce on the importance of using proper pronouns and including the opinions of a wide variety of backgrounds in your decision-making processes.

Our DEI team cares passionately about supporting how organizations understand bias and move into a more inclusive position for all their workforce needs.

It matters.

Tammy is a thought leader with a pioneering record of global workforce management experience. She has worked across diverse industries and specializes in developing large-scale human resources and diversity, equity, and inclusion program strategies while helping organizations create inclusive cultures that leverage all talent for a competitive advantage. Tammy has held very focused senior leadership roles while serving as a trusted advisor, coach, and facilitator.

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