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At some point, many of us have accidentally misgendered someone by not using their preferred pronoun. Indeed, we may be Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practitioners, yet we have recently made this same mistake. At the moment, it can feel embarrassing, and you might scramble to try to correct yourself.
“Misgendering” refers to someone using a pronoun or address that does not correctly reflect the gender with which the individual identifies. An example is using the pronoun “he” to refer to a trans woman. It might seem like a minor issue to some, but it can be exceedingly hurtful and alienating for members of the trans community and those who identify as non-binary. Ultimately, misgendering is the opposite of promoting inclusion and belonging.
It is essential to get pronouns right in the workplace. For many transgender people, their pronoun choice is a deeply personal aspect of their identity. Being constantly and repeatedly misgendered can be dehumanizing as if their existence isn’t being recognized. It can make them feel like they are not being seen, accepted or respected by their colleagues. As a result, they may dread coming to work, become disconnected and disengaged and begin looking for a new job.
Here are six simple ways to make pronoun discovery easier for your employees.
Create a safe and inclusive environment from the start
Your workplace culture must be inclusive, open and respectful. No matter how many meetings you go to, videos you watch or books you read, if the work environment isn’t holistically inclusive and encourages diversity, there will always be a barrier. Cultivating a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusion will go a long way in making employees feel comfortable disclosing their pronouns and being their authentic selves.
Educate yourself and your team on the importance of using someone’s correct pronouns
Remember that not everyone is a DEI professional or has a background and experience in the more nuanced and layered aspects of diversity and inclusion, so break down the basics. Many people only know gender as a binary: he or she. Education helps understand the entire spectrum, including non-binary identities that may use gender-neutral pronouns, like they/them. At its core, using the identifying words each person wants to be used is a matter of respect. When we misgender, we burn the bridge of connection from our end. Educating yourself and your team can help create a more inclusive environment.
Normalize the conversation around pronouns
Create opportunities for employees to share their pronouns during new employee orientations or onboarding. If you are unsure about the pronouns a person prefers, simply ask. It is better to respect them by inquiring than to make an assumption that could be harmful. Allies can also be encouraged to add their pronouns to email signatures and name badges, which further normalizes pronoun conversations throughout the organization.
Respect everyone’s privacy
Not everyone is comfortable sharing their pronouns publicly. Be sure to respect an individual’s privacy and leave the decision to disclose up to individuals. Normalizing a conversation is different than being intrusive and prying. Be mindful of the energy and the individual and operate with care and compassion.
Use the right pronouns
If you make a mistake and use the wrong pronoun, apologize and correct yourself. It is essential to show that you are committed to using the correct pronouns. The most significant takeaway is to have a sincere, positive intention. People will recognize and respect someone who has a genuine, good-faith intention but makes a mistake. We’re all working together to create the ideal workplaces and societies, a part of that work is the ability to rebound from missteps.
Lead by example
As the employer, you have control over the tone set at your workplace. Educating employees about pronoun use and getting pronouns right shows that your organization is a place that embraces diversity and inclusion. Leading by example will go a long way in making staff feel at ease when referring to their genders.
Identifying words, such as pronouns and a person’s correct name, matters to people. Some people go by their middle names or a nickname for different reasons, and they wouldn’t want someone calling them the wrong name. You’d feel disrespected, disregarded, and dismissed if someone used the wrong name when addressing you.
Inclusive leaders must learn to use pronouns to show respect. Be the example of the ideal workplace culture and build belonging. Respectful pronoun use helps you and your employees create a more inclusive workplace for everyone. A better future begins with a new culture and a new workplace culture starts with leadership.
Pride month may be over, but the struggles that members of the LGBTQIA+ community face at home and work are still a 365-day issue. The rates of abuse and homicide toward trans women have been increasing over the last few years.
Keep in mind that we are discussing identifying words and pronouns; we aren’t talking about a small matter or just words. It’s a human matter. It recognizes someone’s existence as authentic, valid and — more importantly — valuable.