4 Best Practices for Using Pronouns in the Workplace

Encouraging pronoun sharing at your organization can help you work towards creating an open and welcoming environment.

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Gone are the days of using just she/her and he/his pronouns. According to Pew Research, as of this year, 42% of American adults know someone who is transgender and 21% know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns like they/them. These numbers are up from 37% of adults who knew someone transgender in 2017 and 18% of adults who knew someone using gender-neutral pronouns in 2018.

The practice of sharing pronouns has become an increasingly popular and socially accepted way to be inclusive of the roughly 1.36 million adults who identify as transgender or non-binary in the United States today.

New to the idea or pronoun sharing or aren’t quite sure how to navigate it in the professional realm? Here are 4 best practices for using pronouns in the workplace that should help answer some of the questions you might have.

Encourage — don’t mandate — pronoun sharing

While setting policies that mandate pronoun sharing might seem like a quick and easy way to help everyone feel welcome in the workplace, mandates should be avoided. Disclosing pronouns can be a source of anxiety for LGBTQIA+ people, so avoid forcing the practice on anyone. While you should avoid mandating anything regarding pronouns, you could consider issuing guidelines that outline how inclusion is the expectation in the workplace, but leave any concrete choices up to individuals.

Rather than mandating something like pronoun sharing, encouragement is the way to go — especially for HR professionals and other company leaders. Encourage people to share their pronouns if and when they feel comfortable doing so — without calling anyone out for not participating in the practice. This way, you can work towards creating an open and welcoming environment without forcing anyone to reveal information about themselves that they’re not yet ready to share.

Encourage people to share their pronouns if and when they feel comfortable doing so — without calling anyone out for not participating in the practice.

As long as you have a genuinely open and welcoming corporate culture, people will share their pronouns when they’re ready.

Lead by example

The best way to encourage your employees to get comfortable with various pronouns and the identities they represent is to lead by example. Put your pronouns in your email signature and share your pronouns in meetings and other professional settings. Leading by example in this way helps to make the practice commonplace and shows your commitment to an inclusive workplace.

Another way to lead by example is to ditch gendered greetings and ways of identifying groups of people. It can be tough to recognize, because some gendered plural pronouns have been so widely and commonly used for so long. However, it’s an important effort to undertake if you want to make your LGBTQIA+ employees feel comfortable and welcome at work.

Nix greetings like “hey guys” and “hello ladies” both in person and in written communication like email. Even if you think you’re addressing a group of women, you truly never know and doing so can result in misgendering someone, which can be a painful and harmful experience for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Try using phrases like “y’all” and “everyone” when referring to groups of people. Avoid using or assuming pronouns.

Instead, try using phrases like “y’all” and “everyone” when referring to groups of people. Avoid using or assuming pronouns and consider defaulting to using they/theirs until you know that someone specifically uses he/his or she/her pronouns.

If you get someone’s pronouns wrong, don’t dwell on apologies

It’s easy to feel super embarrassed, ashamed, or the like if you get someone’s pronouns wrong or you realize that you’ve been using the wrong pronouns for someone for a long time. The best thing you can do is thank someone when they correct you.

If you want to apologize, do so very briefly and privately and move on. Profusely apologizing can be embarrassing for the person on the receiving end of so much attention surrounding their identity.

Don’t make assumptions about people’s gender and respect their privacy

Even if someone’s gender identity seems obvious, it’s important to know that you can never truly tell someone’s gender just by looking at them. Get into the habit of asking what pronouns people use when meeting new people.

It’s important, though, to not ask people which pronouns they prefer, because someone’s identity isn’t a preference. Naturally, you want to stay away from anything invasive like asking about someone’s plans for or history of surgery or asking details about their journey. Rest assured that people will share with you if they want to do so.

Finally, respect your employee’s privacy around their gender identity the same way that you do with any other personal information in the workplace. Not everyone is comfortable sharing their full identities (and the pronouns that go along with them) in all situations, especially at work. Even if you hear that an employee has shared different pronouns with someone else at work, only use the pronouns that the person has shared with you.

Everyone is at a different place on their journey. The key is to remember and respect that you’re only entitled to the information that someone willingly shares with you.

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