Gender Pronouns in the Workplace: What They Are and Why They Matter

PUblished on: 

October 25, 2023

Updated on: 

Written by 

Rebekah Pierce

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We live in a society that’s constantly evolving and becoming more inclusive. A major aspect of this evolution is the recognition and acceptance of diverse gender identities. As a result, using proper gender pronouns in the workplace has become increasingly important.

Not only is using correct pronouns respectful and inclusive, but it also creates a more welcoming environment for all employees. It communicates that everyone, no matter their gender identity, is valued and respected.

But let's be real, it can sometimes be challenging to navigate gender pronouns in the workplace. The good news is that there are some simple steps we can take to make it easier for everyone.

What Are Gender Pronouns?

For the most part, we all know that pronouns are those little words that take the place of someone's name, like "he," "she," or "they."

So when you introduce yourself, you might say, "Hi, my name is Bob," or "Hi, I'm Alice."

Gender pronouns, however, go a bit deeper than that. When used correctly, they can help to create a safer, more inclusive space, particularly for people who identify as transgender or nonbinary.

For those who may not know, people who are transgender or nonbinary may use pronouns that are different from what you might expect based on their appearance or the gender they were assigned at birth. In addition to he/him and she/her, others can include pronouns like "they/them," "ze/hir," or "xe/xem," among many others.

Gender pronouns will take the introduction mentioned above one step further. You might say, "Hi, my name is Bob, and I use the pronouns he/him" or "Hi, I'm Alice, and my pronouns are they/them.

Why Do Gender Pronouns Matter?

First off, let's debunk the myth that gender-neutral pronouns are just for the "woke" millennials and Gen Z.

People of all ages and backgrounds are beginning to recognize the importance of using pronouns that reflect a person's gender identity. In fact, it's becoming more common for individuals to include their preferred pronouns in their email signatures or social media bios.

But why does this matter in the workplace?

For starters, using the wrong pronoun can be uncomfortable and invalidating for the individual. It can also lead to misunderstandings, which can hinder productivity and harm relationships between colleagues. In some cases, not using the correct pronouns can have a major impact on someone's mental health and well-being.

Using the correct pronouns is also simply a matter of respect. It shows that you recognize and value each person's identity, something that's critical when it comes to creating an inclusive environment.

If you're looking to retain the most diverse workforce possible, using inclusive language can be incredibly helpful. If employees are able to see that their company both values and respects their identities, they're more likely to feel supported and embraced by the company culture.

And finally, not using the correct gender pronouns may have some legal implications involved. Discrimination based on gender identity is illegal in many states and countries, and misgendering someone could potentially open you or your company up to legal trouble. So it's not just a matter of being a good person - it's also a matter of being in compliance with the law.

Common Myths About Pronouns

There are a few myths about gender pronouns in the workplace that we need to debunk before we go any further.

People With Gender-Inclusive Pronouns Get Angry and Defensive About Them

There's a common myth that people who use gender-inclusive pronouns tend to get angry and defensive about them. That's just not true. In fact, most folks who choose to use gender-neutral pronouns are simply looking for respect and recognition, regardless of their gender identity. It's not about being difficult or demanding, but instead, about being seen for who they are.

Pronouns Like "They and Them" are Grammatically Incorrect

Next up, we have the myth that pronouns like "they" and "them" are grammatically incorrect.

Again, this just isn't true. In fact, singular "they" has been used in English for centuries and is recognized by major authorities - including Merriam-Webster, which added a specific sense of singular "they" in 2019.

Language is constantly evolving and changing, so let's embrace that and use pronouns that make everyone feel seen and respected.

Gender Pronouns Are "Just a Trend"

A final myth about gender pronouns is that they're a fad and won't stay in style for long. Other people assume they're just a political correctness trend or only matter for trans or non-binary individuals.

Again, this couldn't be further from the truth. Pronouns matter to everyone, regardless of their gender identity or political affiliation. It's a simple way to show someone that you see and respect them or who they are. And it's not a difficult step to take, so why not take it?

Best Practices for Using Gender Pronouns

Gender pronouns

Using gender pronouns, especially in the workplace, is just a good practice to partake in. Plain and simple.

However, it's understandable that adjusting to pronouns that are different from what you're used to can take some practice. If you make a mistake and slip up, don't stress - just show compassion and correct yourself. Be open to changes and to being corrected, without feeling guilty, ashamed, or combative.

Here are a few other best practices to follow:

Educate Yourself on Pronouns and Inclusive Language

The first and most important thing you should do is to educate yourself on pronouns and inclusive language. Here's a helpful resource you can take advantage of. Other good resources include GLAAD and PFLAG.

Include Gender Pronouns in Signatures and Work Profiles

A simple step you can take toward workplace inclusivity is to include your own gender pronouns in your email signature and work profiles. This can be a simple way to show your support for the LGBTQIA+ community and help normalize the inclusion of pronouns.

Plus, it can make someone feel more comfortable sharing their own pronouns with you.

Know What to Do if You Use the Wrong Pronoun

We know that mistakes can happen. Maybe you accidentally misgender someone or use the wrong pronoun. The important thing is to apologize - in private. You don't need to make a big deal out of it or draw attention to yourself. Just take responsibility for your mistake, apologize, and then move on.

Include Pronouns as Part of Introductory Meetings

One way to make sure everyone feels safe and included is to include pronoun sharing as part of introductory meetings.

This means inviting everyone to share their pronouns at the beginning of the meeting, especially if you don't know everyone's preferred pronouns. It's a simple step you can take to create a more open and accepting environment for everyone.

Create Consequences for Intentional Misgendering

Accidents of course happen, but it's usually clear when the wrong pronoun is repeatedly used intentionally. This is something known as a microaggression, and it's just not cool.

If you're a manager or involved in any kind of leadership role, the best thing you can do to prevent this is to create consequences for intentional misgendering. Make sure it's clear what will happen if someone commits one of these microaggressions, and follow through on it.

Remember, using gender-inclusive language isn't just about making everybody feel comfortable - it's also a matter of following the law.

Use Gender-Inclusive Language

Using gender-inclusive language is key to creating an environment that is welcoming for everyone.

This means speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender, or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes. The United Nations has a more comprehensive definition here.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, understanding gender pronouns isn't just a matter of political correctness. Instead, it's about acknowledging and affirming the diverse range of gender identities that exist beyond what we see as traditional "gender" norms - and about making our colleagues feel as comfortable as possible so we can all enjoy working well together.

Pay attention to the role of gender pronouns in the workplace and do your best to make everyone feel included. Our language matters, so let's use it to make the workplace a better place for everyone.

Rebekah Pierce

Rebekah Pierce is a writer who lives in upstate New York with her husband and son. She has a B.A. in English from St. Lawrence University and an M.S.Ed. in Special Education from SUNY Plattsburgh. A former teacher, her writing work concentrates primarily on education, business, and agriculture.