Our understanding of gender—especially going beyond two binary options—has grown significantly over the last few years. Now, one in 250 adult Americans identifies as transgender, and the rich diversity of gender expression continues to emerge as we create safer places for people who are LGBTQIA+.
In the modern workplace, it’s crucial to foster a sense of inclusivity and belonging. And one crux of diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) is ensuring you have current knowledge of gender identity and gender pronouns. Watch the video below from PDT Global to first understand non-binary identity:
What Are Gender Pronouns?
Gender pronouns signify how someone would like to be referred to with regards to their gender identity. Gender goes well beyond a few letters on a driver’s license or birth certificate, though — it is a core piece of a person’s identity.
There are a number of personal pronouns used for different groups and identities:
- He/him/his: Male pronouns
- She/her/hers: Female pronouns
- They/them/theirs: Gender-neutral group pronouns and singular pronouns as well
- Ze/zir/zirs: Neutral singular pronouns for those not wanting to use they/them/theirs
The list of pronouns is evolving, with the above representing some of the most common ones. Keep this in mind as there’s a chance you’ll encounter new neutral pronouns. This video explains more:
Why Gender Pronouns Matter
Gender pronouns are an important part of one’s identity and carry personal and cultural context. Using the wrong pronoun can be offensive and put someone in a difficult or awkward situation, as you’re disrespecting their identity and denying them a big part of who they are.
It’s a common misconception that you can tell someone’s gender by looking at them. There are no physical constraints to gender, so judging someone by appearance is the wrong approach.
You can only be certain of someone’s gender pronoun when they’ve told you or made it clear in another manner. Because pronouns are a personal matter, using the correct pronoun shows someone you acknowledge and truly respect who they are. The personal pronoun resources below can help.
How to Use Personal Pronouns Correctly
As we previously touched on, the best way to ensure you use a pronoun correctly is to ask the person. The question itself needs to be handled properly, as improper phrasing can carry the wrong implications.
When asking someone what pronoun they use, use direct language like “What pronoun do you use?” Avoid asking which pronoun they “prefer,” as this implies it’s optional. One might prefer coffee but settle for tea. A pronoun is a core part of someone’s identity and how they want to be known.
You might fear an awkward conversation when asking someone about their pronoun use, but even a small amount of awkward tension is better than unintentionally devaluing someone’s identity. If you’re unsure about someone’s pronoun, the “they/their/them” pronoun is suitable for both singular and plural use.
4 Strategies for Pronoun Usage in the Workplace
The workplace is a great place to reinforce pronouns, but it’s also easy for them to fall by the wayside. There are several strategies you can put in place to create a workplace that creates a sense of belonging for all.
Avoid putting people on the spot
The temptation to go around in a circle and discuss pronouns is likely there. But wait! You’ll want to avoid putting people on the spot when discussing pronoun usage. Some people might be uncomfortable voicing their pronouns, while others may be in an exploratory part of their life and unsure of their personal pronoun.
If you want to include pronouns in an introductory setting, make it clear that it’s optional. Tell people they can introduce themselves by name, position, and pronoun if they like. This lets people know it isn’t necessary to voice their pronoun in a public setting.
Don’t make assumptions
Avoid making assumptions about a person’s gender or pronouns. Until someone has specifically stated their pronoun, use they/them/their or ask them directly and in private what pronoun they use. Assuming a pronoun and identifying someone in a manner they don’t wish to be identified strips them of their agency and sense of self.
Keep mass communications gender-neutral
There will be times you need to address your entire team or company. Use gender-neutral pronouns in communications and large addresses to ensure you’re not alienating anyone or making any assumptions.
When referencing a group of people, there are a number of gender-neutral ways you can address them: “Good morning team/colleagues/folks/y’all/everyone.” These greetings will keep things neutral and prevent anyone from feeling misidentified. “Ladies and gentlemen” or “guys and gals” can feel exclusionary. Similarly, “salespeople” or “sales team” is more representative than “sales guys.”
Include pronouns in email signatures
Explicitly listing gender pronouns in email signatures, on name tags, on a business card, or elsewhere is not just for non-binary people. It’s helpful for cisgender folks to list their pronouns, because it creates space and safety for others to list theirs.
You can do this via a simple addition to your existing email signature, like:
If you’re managing a team, you could encourage employees to include their gender pronouns in their email signatures if they feel comfortable doing so. It’s a good idea not to mandate pronouns in email signatures, but to simply suggest it as an option for those comfortable including it. Leading by example can go a long way, so feel free to start the movement by including your own pronouns in your email signature.
Create Employee Training Videos
Taking the previously mentioned proactive steps will help turn your office into a safe place for gender pronoun discussions. And traditional training can do a world of good in tandem with your efforts. Gender pronoun training videos allow you to convey information in a dynamic manner while catering to a wide variety of learning styles.
Pronoun video training is the perfect place for scenario-based training on how gender pronouns impact the well-being of others, and animation is a great place to start. By using animated characters, you can represent a diverse spectrum of gender expression beyond the live actors you have readily available, and circumvent visual biases around what gender looks like.
Have a look at this gender pronoun video explainer, which could be used in HR communications.
Use this video as a template
Animated videos also have the benefit of being easy to pair with an interactive course. This allows you to create an animated video that gives users the option to select conversation responses, take quizzes on gender pronouns, and more. For example, you can use Vyond to make an animation and then pair it with Articulate Storyline 360 to create interactive courses.
An added benefit of using interactive courses is that it gives you a chance to see if people are actually learning the material. When paired with a learning management system (LMS), you can track everyone’s progress, see if people are passing the courses, where they’re getting hung up, and how long the material’s taking to complete. This ensures you’re making training that’s effective, and that gender pronouns get proper acknowledgment in your workplace.
Vyond makes it easy to create effective gender-pronoun training using fun, inclusive animation. To see how easily you can make gender pronoun training material, give Vyond a try with a free 14-day trial.
Gender Pronouns: The Respect Everyone Deserves
Gender pronouns, along with our understanding, are ever-evolving. To champion gender pronouns is to champion respect and individuality. Progress may ebb and flow, but with your help, the tide of progress never has to recede.
Learn more about personal pronouns:
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