Equality and acceptance are topics that arise when considering some of the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community. The topic of gender, specifically gender identity, is an area that we can work to understand to establish accurate communication. Gender identity does not equal gender expression. That means that who someone identifies as internally can be different than how they present themselves externally. Therefore, gender pronouns are essential.
Pronouns convey a person’s gender identity apart from their name. This is especially important as we seek to respect and affirm one another when communicating. Alex Schmider, Director of Transgender Representation at GLADD, believes that properly acknowledging someone’s pronouns is comparable to correctly pronouncing someone’s name. Imagine that you go by Chris, and someone refers to you as Christopher when your name is Christian. The assumption connected with the mistake can be offensive.
We can ensure that we correctly refer to someone by asking about their pronoun preferences rather than assuming. A gentle way to ease into the question and not feel uncomfortable is by introducing yourself by name and offering your pronouns, followed by asking theirs. For example, “Hi, I’m Anna. I use she/her pronouns. What about you?” If you have already met, but you can’t recall a person’s pronouns, you can simply ask, “Can you remind me which pronouns that you use?”
As companies seek to expand and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, specific steps should be taken to issue clear guidelines about pronoun use. First and foremost, companies should include language in their employee policies specifying that employees can expect their peers to use their preferred pronouns. Other ways companies can foster inclusion and belonging is by including pronouns in email signatures and using gender-neutral language in formal and informal communications.
In a perfect world, we would all get this correct 100% of the time, but we must acknowledge that people make mistakes. If you refer to someone’s gender pronoun incorrectly, apologize and correct the mistake. There is no need to make a big deal out of the misstep, as that can create a delicate situation. Try something like, “Chris is heading to the coffee shop. He, I apologize; they are taking orders if you would like them to bring you something back.” Still not feeling confident about asking someone for their pronouns? When in doubt, use they/them and practice using gender-neutral pronouns whenever you aren’t referring to someone by their name. It also helps in instances where someone’s pronouns have changed. For example, she/her may now prefer he/him.
Honoring everyone’s gender pronouns is a sign of respect for their identity. It also sets the tone and acts as an example for others to do the same.