Maybe your company is already familiar with the practice of adding personal pronouns to your email signature line or other forms of communication. Or maybe you noticed all the rainbow flags and logos that popped up on your social media feeds and on product advertisements last month (yup, June was LGBTQ+ Pride month) and you started to wonder, “Do I need to be adding my pronouns somewhere?”, “Where do I add them?”, “How do I add them?” or “Why do pronouns even matter in the workplace?” This short article will try to answer some of those questions and provide several key resources to help you find the best answers for you and your organization.
As more and more organizations recognize the need to increase their focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), the use of pronouns is becoming a decision point for leaders. Although there is no one best practice regarding the use of pronouns in the workplace, it is important for leaders to educate themselves, create space for open discussion on the topic, and align their self-professed beliefs with action. In today’s workforce, both LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and other sexual and gender marginalized identities) and non-LGBTQ+ employees are expecting their employers to address these issues with clarity and intention so that they understand where their organization stands on this issue and, in turn, what is expected of them. In fact, proactively addressing DEI-related issues in the workplace is one of the main attractions for potential and current employees. According to a recent Glassdoor study, 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities, and more than 50% of current employees want their workplace to do more to increase diversity. So, if employees are expecting more from their employers and employers know that promoting greater diversity and inclusion will ultimately benefit their workforce and their bottom line, you may still be wondering what to do about those pesky pronouns!
Sharing pronouns can involve a greater level of risk for transgender, nonbinary and/or other employees who do not identify as male or female as it can push the boundaries of confidentiality; out them before they are ready; force them to answer awkward questions or engage in unnecessary conversations with co-workers; or simply require a level of openness that they don’t want. For these reason and others, it is a big decision as to whether to require employees to reveal or include their pronouns at work. For cisgender employees (those whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth) the risk in sharing pronouns is likely much lower and can often have great benefits that signal and promote an inclusive workplace. In the words of inclusion consultant and author, Max Masure (they/them), sharing your pronouns “normalizes the process, has little risk, and actually makes for a safer environment for everyone.”
Taking all of the above into consideration, rather than requiring employees to share their pronouns, an effective approach may be to start with inviting any employee who wants to share their pronouns to do so. Leaders can also model this option by being the first to add their own pronouns to verbal introductions (“Hi, my name is Tara and I use she/her pronouns”) and/or other forms of workplace communications like email signature lines, business cards, virtual meeting and messaging platforms, and social media profiles. Check out this great detailed article on all the “how-tos” of adding your pronouns across various mediums.
Whatever your organization decides about sharing pronouns, it’s helpful to follow these best practice tips:
- Educate yourself on terminology including the differences among gender, sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. Visit the Human Rights Campaign Glossary of Terms or the Anti-Defamation League’s Terminology Related to Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Identity or the National Center for Transgender Equality Guide to Understanding Non-Binary People for more information.
- Better understand the history, lived experiences and perspectives of the LGBTQ+ community by doing your own research and reading. You can start by visiting the Human Rights Campaign, GLADD and The Transgender Law Center.
- Invite, sponsor and engage those in your workplace to share and discuss topics related to diversity, equity, inclusion, gender and gender identity, and LGBTQ+ inclusion and the use of pronouns. These resources offer a great place to start. A short primer article on Why Pronouns Matter from mypronouns.org, guidance resource from the Society for Human Resources Management called Using Employees’ Preferred Gender Pronouns, or this recent Forbes article, Should you put Pronouns in Email Signatures and Social Media Bios?
- Hire a DEI Consultant to help you think through the possible implications of your DEI efforts and decisions and to navigate any changes you put in to place. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to speak to a member of our DEI team.
- Transparency and accountability are KEY right now for all organizations who are looking ot make better DEI decisions. Be sure to explain the reasons behind any DEI-related decision to your staff and offer the opportunity for employees to bring questions and/or concerns to someone in the organization that they trust will listen to and value their input. They’ll appreciate your transparency and it will open the lines of communication on future topics.
Lastly, be ready to get things wrong. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts are a journey and there are bound to be bumps along the way – you may say the wrong thing, make the wrong decision or need to listen more to your employees. Be open to the idea that you don’t have to be perfect on this journey but, you do have to be ready to make tangible and real progress that will help lead you and your organization to a stronger, more inclusive future for everyone.
Tara B. Taylor, MPA