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RESPECTING OTHERS' IDENTITY: WHY PRONOUNS MATTER IN THE WORKPLACE

The use of pronouns will be an increasingly important element of creating inclusive work environments, says Will Fox, internal communications manager at Beamery.

6th June 2022

By using pronouns, we show courtesy and respect to those people who use different pronouns – we want to stand up for them and build an inclusive workplace where no one feels marginalised for being misgendered.

WILL FOX


The use of gender-neutral pronouns isn’t new – even Shakespeare used the singular “they” in his writing – but over the past 15 or 20 years, there has been increased awareness of transgender and non-binary issues. And over the past five years or so, the use of pronouns has become a prominent way of showing how we can respect one another in the workplace, and not judge someone by their name or appearance.

As societies, by and large, become gender diverse and more accepting and inclusive, businesses need to take on board that there are more employees entering the workplace who have different gender expressions and are moving away from the binary, or are transitioning.

By using pronouns, we show courtesy and respect to those people who use different pronouns – we want to stand up for them and build an inclusive workplace where no one feels marginalised for being misgendered. It’s a small show of allyship, but the power and impact on someone’s psychological safety is immeasurable.

A lot of LGBTQ+ people are out at university or in further education, but go back in the closet when they start work, as they are worried it will reflect badly on them.

Someone coming into your organisation questioning their gender may see their manager using pronouns and will feel they are in a safe space. They will feel better and perform better if they are not spending half their time hiding themselves. If you consistently misgender someone, it's discriminating or bullying.
 

For internal communicators, there are lots of opportunities to talk about pronouns. Reinforce the need to respect the pronouns people choose to use, but let people know it is OK to make mistakes and to quickly apologise and correct themselves.

Use storytelling with colleagues who use different pronouns. In campaigns, refer to people as “them”. Use gender neutral emojis – rather than a male or female. It shows you are not choosing a side. It takes away any bias.

In video meetings and town halls, if leaders are talking, have their name and pronouns in the caption – that ingrains the importance of pronouns from the top of the organisation.

If you are writing speeches or remarks for leaders, move the language away from “Ladies and gentleman” or “Hi guys” to “Hi everyone”. Integrate the language to social networks. It takes time, because we have used that lexicon for years, but these small tweaks will make those non binary or using other pronouns feel included – otherwise they think, “Where am I in the ‘ladies and gentleman’?”

In videos and imagery, select people who aren’t the stereotypical man or woman. If someone looks gender neutral, use them. Let every employee see themselves in your campaign.
 

Internal communicators can weave this into their day-to-day rhythm, but there are days when you can shine a spotlight on it: International Non-Binary People’s Day (14 July) or Pronouns Day (19 October) or talk about trans women and cisgender women on International Women’s Day. Work on communication around these dates with people in your organisation who they might be targeted towards, to show you are caring, but also talk to those who don’t use those pronouns – we want those people to be allies.

Work with HR to make sure systems and processes consider pronouns. Ensure there are training resources for managers on, for example, how to support a someone who has transitioned and returned to the workplace or having conversations to clarify if someone would prefer he, she or they.

In my role, I’ve made a video talking about the importance of pronouns, and we share that in inductions.

Are email signatures automated or do they have clear instructions on what to do? When we made the switch to include pronouns in email signatures, we took the opportunity to include the pronunciation of names to further bolster acceptance, respect and inclusion. Make sure name badges have pronouns – not every employee uses email.

Two things crucial to the success of using pronouns is firstly to make sure that it is clear this is optional. A lot of people may not want to share their pronouns – members of the LGBTQ+ community may be exploring their identify or wish to keep it private.

Second, be clear about why pronouns are important – from the point of view of inclusion, allyship and making people feel safe. Whether a colleague is young coming in to the business or 60 and planning retirement, make sure everyone can understand why it’s happening. Over the next five years, pronouns will be the catalyst for other elements in our various workplace structures to help people feel included and not marginalised.

 

3 top tips

Don’t force anyone to declare their pronouns. If you want to use colleagues or leaders’ pronouns in your communication, get their permission.

If you make a mistake with someone’s pronoun, correct yourself. Over-apologising can draw attention to it. If someone else accidentally misgenders someone, politely correct them – even if the person they are referring to is not in the room.

In your internal comms, consider how your language might be excluding non-binary colleagues; and consider how some campaigns can include everyone by using gender neutral or trans people or using the “they” pronoun.
 

Will Fox [he/him] has been internal communication manager at Beamery since 2021, having previous held senior IC roles at City University of London, Pride in London and UPS. In past roles, he has chaired LGBTQ+ employee resource groups, and he has been shortlisted for Diversity Champion of the Year at the European Diversity Awards. In May 2022, Will was appointed an IoIC board member.

 

 

 

By using pronouns, we show courtesy and respect to those people who use different pronouns – we want to stand up for them and build an inclusive workplace where no one feels marginalised for being misgendered.

WILL FOX

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