Dr Francesca Maclean
Leading with pronouns in the workplace
Sometimes, things you must do to promote diversity, inclusion and gender equity can be hard. They can be tiring, long and feel (very) hard won.
Well, using inclusive pronouns is not one of those things. It is quick, easy and impactful.
A while ago, I decided to add my pronouns to my email signature. While I work for a firm whose core values include being a humane organisation, engineering can still be a pretty conservative industry, so I was uncertain of the reaction I would get. It took six months for someone to ask me what it meant, which allowed me to introduce a senior male leader to the concept of the gender unicorn and pronouns – a great outcome, in my book!
I was motivated to do this because, as a cis-gendered woman, I have the privilege of being unconsciously comfortable with using she / her pronouns. I don’t ever have to think twice about how my pronouns will be received or be misgendered.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for many people, including non-binary, trans or gender diverse people. In the workplace (and in our schools, communities… almost everywhere), we often assume pronouns based on how we interpret someone’s appearance and related gender. However, we know that gender is a spectrum, and that gender expression and gender identity do not have to conform to our society’s gender norms. Highlighting my own pronouns is what I call an ‘inclusion flag’ – just like asking someone if they work flexibly, instead of assuming they work 9-5, Monday – Friday. This inclusion flag tells people that I understand pronouns and will know how to respect theirs.
Why should you use pronouns in your email signature, event name tags and introductions? If you are in a position of privilege in this instance (cis-gender using he / him or she / her pronouns), you lose nothing by drawing attention to pronouns, but your workplace culture gains a whole lot.
When someone asks you why you have drawn attention to your pronouns, it is an invaluable opportunity to discuss gender identity, the gender unicorn and inclusive language.
When someone who uses, for example, they / them or ze / zir pronouns and sees your pronouns as an inclusion flag, it tells them (or zir), this is someone who gets it. It can help to foster more meaningful relationships by creating a safe and inclusive environment through small actions.
Leading in this space means sharing your pronouns (in email signatures, LinkedIn profiles, verbal introductions), understanding the range of pronouns that exist, and being open to being corrected if you mess up someone’s pronouns.
A little hesitant to get started? No worries! Challenge yourself to use they / them pronouns when talking to and about people for a week. See how you can adapt to using different pronouns, so the next time you meet someone with they pronouns, you are already a pro!
Here are a range of pronouns to help you feel more comfortable in using them, from the awesome Trans Student Educational Resources. Remember, our language is constantly evolving and there are a lot of different pronouns out there, so always keep learning.