Why Respecting Pronouns In The Workplace Matters

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It’s fairly common for a company to say that they proudly welcome people of different backgrounds, genders, and sexualities. Though it’s great that companies are taking steps to make their applicant pool more diverse, there isn’t enough discussion about the specifics of making a workplace safer and more welcoming. One of the many steps that you can take to make your workplace more inclusive is to inform your team on how to respect other people’s pronouns.

Why Do Pronouns Matter?

There are over 1.4 million transgender people living in the United States, but only recently have transgender issues been at the forefront of the national conversation. In a welcoming workplace, with people from all different backgrounds, respecting someone’s pronoun choice is crucial to respecting someone’s gender identity. According to the advocacy website mypronouns.org, “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.” For cisgender people (individuals who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth), having someone refer to them as their correct pronouns is so casual that it’s simply taken for granted. When someone refers to a transgender or a gender non-conforming person by the wrong pronouns, however, it’s understood as a way of questioning the validity of their identity.  

How Do You Encourage Employees To Respect Pronouns?

When someone is being onboarded, regardless of their gender identity, ask them to share with everyone their preferred pronouns. This way, transgender, non-conforming, and cisgender employees are all treated the same and everyone gets a chance to express how they want to be referred to. Try these suggestions:

  • Create name badges to reflect their name and pronouns.
  • Add a Pronoun line to your email signature.  
  • State the new employee’s preferred pronouns in their welcome email.
  • If you’re introduced to someone and are unsure of their gender identity, simply ask for their preferred pronouns.

Though at first, this emphasis on pronouns may feel a bit awkward, it will eventually become normal and enhance your workplace’s inclusivity.

What If Someone Doesn’t Respect A Coworker’s Preferred Pronouns?

Even if your office tries its best to be inclusive, there’s always the risk of someone slipping up or purposefully using the wrong pronouns. These situations can be tricky because you don’t want to further alienate the coworker who was wronged by making a scene. However, you need address the situation so it doesn’t happen again. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Correct the employee who is using the wrong pronouns. Say something polite but assertive like: “Tiffany actually goes by she/her pronouns.”  It could be that your coworker was making an honest mistake and didn’t mean any harm. However, in a more private setting after the slip up, it may be important to reiterate that they should be more careful so they don’t offend anyone.

  • If it happens repeatedly, bring the issue to HR. It’s important that transgender and gender nonconforming individuals aren’t forced to constantly correct people themselves and that they know their coworkers are looking out for them.

  • If the problem continues with multiple employees, it might be necessary to have your workplace undergo an inclusivity/diversity training workshop.

Respecting someone’s pronouns is just one step in a broader process of making your office safer and more welcoming. With the right steps and systems in place, your workplace can become stronger and more inclusive.