Corporate Citizenship has brought into question during one of our whole UK team meetings the adoption of pronouns in our signatures. Initial mixed understanding of what this meant was ultimately sparked by excitement as the team agreed it is something we believe fits the company’s culture and should be adopted (by those who wish to do it) as a token of diversity, equity and inclusion, which we strongly stand for. This article was produced to help disseminate the topic so more people can make their own minds towards adopting this small action and spreading the practice.
There is growing fluidity in young people’s sexual and gender identities.
In a world where 20% of Americans know someone who prefers to go by a gender–neutral pronoun and 50% of young people in the UK does not identify as straight, it is certain that the new decade will bring more discussions around gender identity. And for those who still hold on to the usage of ‘they’ to refer to non-binary people as being grammatically incorrect, the English dictionary Merriam-Webster recently announced the add ition of the nonbinary use of ‘they’.
Gender pronouns are simply the word that an individual would like others to use when talking to or about them – he, him, his, she, her, hers, they, them, theirs (or something else entirely).
For companies wanting to encourage diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), the incorporation of gender pronouns can be a strong and simple (and cost-free!) message to share.
Gender equality can be promoted in many ways – diminishing pay gap, implementing parental leave, advocating women’s empowerment in firms, among many others. As important, gender discussion addresses LGBT+ rights and inclusion. With growing intricacies around individual preferences (for example, with some trans and non-binary people using gender–neutral pronouns such as they/them/their) the best way to avoid accidental misgendering is being straightforward about it. Moreover, especially for cisgender people (a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex), showing your pronouns sends a strong message of inclusivity and helps normalize the practice.
Normalizing the sharing of pronouns is a powerful way to be an LGBT+ ally. A next step, even though it might take some practice before it becomes natural, is when introducing yourself saying by which gender pronouns you go by. This immediately brings a new sense of broader inclusivity. For example, “Hi, my name is Jana and I go by the pronouns she, her” before starting a talk.
Naturally, there are different points of view on this topic. For instance, in educational settings, with young people, the practice of asking one’s preferred gender can bring a lot of anxiety to those who still are in the quest for self-identity; fair point. In settings where there is a recognised likelihood of harassment, a company has to be extremely cautious before incentivizing people to share their pronouns, even though it is with the best of intentions. This is where training and open conversations are especially important and why sharing pronouns must be genuinely voluntary.
Small actions can lead to big cultural shifts.
Although this small practice won’t fix the gender equality issue, by creating a safer space for people to express their gender identity it allows for greater inclusivity in the workspace. It also generates discussion within the organization and re-enforces that the firm recognizes and respects everyone’s identity.
I will leave you with a challenge. When you next meet someone for the first time, try resisting the temptation to assume their gender identity – in doing so, we take an important step towards tackling gender prejudice and stereotypes. Gender is not binary, and not everyone’s gender conforms to the sex they were assigned at birth. Feeling overwhelmed? Just ask, “What pronoun do you go by?”.