Pronouns are how we refer to people, usually in the third person. The binary pronouns (she/her, he/him) are very common and tend to be the default for referring to people. But as the LGBTQ+ community grows, so does space for people to find identities outside of the gender binary. This means binary pronouns don’t always fit with their identity. Sometimes, sharing pronouns can feel like an outing for someone in the LGBTQ+ community, which is why it’s so incredibly important to create and maintain inclusive and safe environments for colleagues. To assist with this, we’ll be going over the ins and outs surrounding pronouns.
Like we mentioned earlier, we use pronouns to refer to people, especially when they aren’t there. Let’s say you’re telling your friend a story about your mother. You’d say something along the lines of, “My mom came to visit me. She stayed in a hotel and she thought it was very nice.” Within the last few years, pronoun usage other than she/her or he/him has grown wildly. To help educate on other types of pronouns, we’ve created a handy chart that has more options besides the binary pronouns.
Examples of Using Pronouns
Using someone’s personal pronouns is a great way for you to show them that you respect their identity and that you want to help create and maintain a safe and inclusive workplace. But when you misgender someone, the opposite happens. Merriam Webster defines misgendering as: “[identifying] the gender of a person incorrectly, as by using an incorrect label or pronoun.” Misgendering people does a few things. First, it reinforces the idea that people have to look a specific way in order to show that they are a certain gender or not. Second, it can be offensive and harmful to folks who are being misgendered. Many companies and organizations have included this in their nondiscrimination policies, as they realize that it is a vital part of someone’s identity.
Along a similar path, it’s important that when talking about pronouns, to avoid the language “preferred pronouns.” The word “preferred” connotates that using someone’s personal pronouns are optional. This is not true. Someone’s pronouns are a part of their identity, and therefore, should be treated and respected as such. A great option instead of “preferred” is “personal pronouns.” This gives an understanding that pronouns are individualized to each person.
To see a few different ways of how pronouns are used, we’ve created another handy chart that goes through the pronouns we mentioned above in real-life examples.
How to Correct Mistakes
As with everything, there can be a learning curve when it comes to pronouns. This means that mistakes can happen. When you make a mistake concerning someone else’s pronouns, it’s vital that you address it. There are a few different ways to handle it. If you realize you made a mistake at that moment, correct it right then and there. Here’s an example: “Peter said he, I’m sorry, they were going to the park today.” Correcting yourself in the moment is a step toward self-accountability, whether Peter is a part of the conversation or not. If Peter was present at the time of the conversation, you can also approach Peter after the conversation in a private conversation and apologize and say: “Hey, Peter, I just wanted to apologize for using the wrong pronouns. I’ll make sure to use the correct ones in the future.”
This check-in apology also works when you realize after the conversation that you misgendered someone. If you’re in a meeting or a large-group setting and consistently referred to Peter as “he” instead of “they”, approaching Peter afterward and apologizing is the best step.
Sharing and Asking Pronouns
Another way to prevent mistakes and assist your workplace culture is to share and ask about pronouns. There are so many different ways to implement sharing your pronouns while at work. A really easy way to do this is to put your pronouns in your email signature. It seems like a small step, but can have a large impact because it reaches whoever you’re emailing, whether it’s other colleagues or partners you may be reaching out to. You can even put a link to a website (like this blog post) next to your pronouns, so people can read about why you put your pronouns in your signature, and why they should too. On a similar note, you can put your pronouns in any kind of personal profile you have, whether that’s social media like LinkedIn, a company website, and even your business cards! If you’re attending a conference or event where nametags are handed out, add your pronouns! It can make introductions to other attendees smoother.
Example of Group Pronoun-Sharing
Let’s say you’re about to start a meeting at work, but you don’t know everyone there, or how they want you to refer to them. Introductions are a great way to find out! One way to phrase it is like this: “Hi everyone. I want to make sure that everyone has access to each other’s names and that we are addressing each other with the correct pronouns. If we could go around and share, that’d be great. I can start. My name is ______, and I use _____ pronouns.” This is a quick and simple way to set the precedent of sharing pronouns with each other. It’s also important to note that some people may not feel comfortable with sharing their pronouns, because they might not be ready to come out and share their pronouns. To help with this, adding in a statement like this can be reassuring for those folks: “If you’re not comfortable sharing your pronouns, just your name is great too.”
Companies and organizations usually will need legal names for the paperwork and documentation side of hiring. In that process, a great way to show an extra step of inclusivity is to provide a place for preferred names and pronouns. This shows new hires that you are taking steps to ensure that they are referred to as they want.
Example of One-On-One Pronoun-Sharing
If you’re not in a large-group setting but rather a one-on-one conversation, asking about pronouns is still a great way to ensure inclusivity. When first introducing yourself to somebody new, you can try something like this: “Hi, my name is ____, and I use ____ pronouns. How should I address and refer to you?” This allows space for the other person to share their name and pronouns with you as well. If you’re having a conversation with someone you already know, but want to make sure you’re using the correct pronouns, the best way is to acknowledge it! Try language like this: “Hi, Stacy. I realized that I’ve been using she/her pronouns to refer to you, but I want to make sure that I’m using your personal pronouns. How should I address and refer to you?”
When asking about pronouns, it’s important that you ask everybody and not just folks who may look like they don’t use binary pronouns. Asking everybody about their pronouns disrupts the normalization of binary pronouns and makes asking the new norm.
The importance of sharing, asking, and encouraging correct pronoun use is because of respect and normalcy. Using the correct pronouns for colleagues shows that you respect their identity. Being willing to share your pronouns, talk about them, and incorporate them into your workplace also normalizes it. The more you do it, the more common it will be, just like brushing your teeth. It’s important to recognize that the language we use impacts thoughts about who belongs around us and who doesn’t. Using correct pronouns and normalizing the use of and asking of pronouns widens the thoughts of who belongs and who doesn’t.
If you’re ever in doubt, unsure about how to proceed with something or have questions, there are so many resources on the internet (aside from this post). The website, pronouns.org is a fantastic resource, that breaks down pronoun usage step by step, to ensure that all steps are understandable and helpful!