You might hear a lot of people talking about gender pronouns but not everyone is familiar with the concept. Gender pronouns are words (often gendered words) used to refer to people without using the person’s name. In the workplace and in general, it’s important to use correct pronouns to make the environment inclusive of all gender identities.
In this article, we will discuss some examples of gender pronouns and why they are integral to fostering an inclusive culture and welcoming space. We will also go over how to use them, including some dos and don’ts.
What Exactly Are Gender Pronouns?
You might recall learning about pronouns in school. Essentially, they are words that we use to refer to others. Some common examples of pronouns are herself, himself, and themselves. Parts of Western society are just beginning to recognize that gender exceeds the binary lines of “men” and “women.” It’s for this reason that language (e.g., pronouns) needs to keep up with the culture’s burgeoning awareness.
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What Makes Pronouns Important?
Pronouns are important when talking to or about someone. One cannot guess a person’s pronouns just by looking at them and some people might prefer not to use pronouns at all. It’s a good idea to never assume someone’s pronouns. Gender nonconforming folks and members of nonbinary communities are more newly known in public western consciousness, and in the best of circumstances, people aim to respect their pronouns to help them feel seen.
You can always be straightforward and ask someone what their pronouns are, and you can also share which ones you use to make the conversation more comfortable. Try to take a mental note of what they mentioned so you don’t forget. One should always honor people’s personal pronouns once they have shared them.
Using the correct pronouns in the workplace and at school can ensure there is a positive environment where everyone feels comfortable with their gender identity. It can also make people feel more comfortable with their appearance and make the work experience relaxed and friendly.
Being misgendered and addressed using an incorrect pronoun has painful effects on nonbinary people because they feel invalidated and dismissed for how they truly want to be seen. Not being called by the correct pronouns can also trigger anxiety and/or depression. In more intense scenarios, it may even trigger substance abuse or potentially suicide risks.
Gender pronouns are an important part of life including in the workplace, universities, and in K-12 school settings. Using the right pronouns is always a good idea as it prioritizes the well-being of the individual. Even if you feel awkward asking people’s pronouns, doing so generally makes them feel heard and included.
If you run a workplace, you might even want to consider having meetings where people can comfortably discuss their pronouns and what they want people to call them. Too many transgender people and gender non-binary people often have to ask for the help of a therapist to work through how people treat them and learn to cope with society’s blindness to the vast spectrum of gender identities.
There are many gender-neutral pronouns to know about. These are most commonly used by people that identify as non-gendered or non-binary. The most common gender pronouns include the pronouns they, them, and their. There is also a long list of other nonbinary pronouns, including the words ze (used in place of she/he), and hir (used in place of his/him/her).
It’s important to remember that someone’s gender pronouns might not match their gender expression. This speaks to the reason why assuming someone’s gender can be risky and hurtful.
Dos and Don’ts of Using Gender Pronouns
When thinking about other people’s gender pronouns, it’s important to know some crucial do’s and don’ts. The following tips will help you feel more comfortable talking about pronouns and help you to make sure you are always using the right ones.
Share Your Own Gender Pronoun First
Asking someone’s gender pronouns might feel awkward at first because you might feel worried about offending the individual. Most people appreciate being asked their pronouns, though, because it makes them feel comfortable talking with you, as this is proof of respect and inclusion.
To make someone more comfortable, you can include your own pronouns. You can also normalize sharing it by including it on email signatures or during meetings, so you can open the discussion on gender pronouns and create a safe space for people to be themselves and share their non-gendered or nonbinary pronouns.
Ask Other People’s Gender Pronouns
Once you share your own gender pronoun, you will encourage the sharing of gender pronouns by others. Asking someone their pronouns shows respect. You might want to consider asking them privately instead of making them announce it in a meeting or in front of other people.
You can word it very simply. Something like “Can I ask what pronouns you use?” is usually enough. Don’t feel like you need to start an entire conversation about it.
Always Apologize If You Use the Wrong Pronoun
Using the wrong pronoun happens. If you make a mistake, though, you need to acknowledge it and say you’re sorry. You should continue the conversation using the correct pronouns. Never ignore the fact that you used the wrong pronoun. Always apologize and then move on.
Never Assume Another Person’s Gender Pronouns
You can’t know someone else’s gender pronouns just by looking at them. You also can’t know for sure just by looking at someone’s way of dressing or behavior. Instead of assuming, always ask politely.
Avoid Binary Gendered Language
If you are head of a workplace or university, try to avoid starting speeches and statements with “ladies and gentlemen” or “girls and boys.” Instead, you can simply say “students”, “everyone”, and “colleagues.”
Strive to use gender-neutral language in all meetings, including informal and formal communications.
Some people in the workplace or at school might use the wrong pronouns when talking about people. Anytime you hear someone using the wrong pronouns, gently correct them. Try not to call them out or embarrass them, but always make sure they know everyone’s pronouns.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you aren’t used to using gender pronouns, especially newer ones like ze and hir, you should give yourself time to practice. You can make conversations in your head or rehearse talking to people to help you get the hang of it.
Using the correct gender pronouns is an important indicator of respect in all social settings. It makes people more comfortable and more relaxed when you use inclusive language and promotes a culture of inclusion and equality.