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Validating Your Coworkers' Identity Starting With Their Pronouns

We are halfway through Pride Month and if you are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, we hope you have had the opportunity to celebrate. For allies, we hope you have taken some action steps to make your LGBTQ+ colleagues and friends feel supported this month. Earlier this month we shared 3 tips for allies that you can do this month and beyond.

Now we’d like to turn our attention to pronouns. We all know what pronouns are – they are the words we use in place of a name to identify a person or people. For a long time, we've assumed people’s gender and used she/her/hers for those who we assumed were women, he/him/his who we assumed were men, and they/them/theirs for a group of people. This means that for a long time, many people went misgendered and in turn, their identities were invalidated. Now that we know that gender is on a spectrum and making assumptions about somebody’s gender is a thing of the past, we must make some cultural changes to give everyone the respect and validation they deserve.

Change #1

Do NOT assume you know someone’s gender. As stated before, we cannot assume gender, so don’t try! A person could be a non-binary, inter-sex, transgender, gender-fluid, gender non-conforming, female, male and the list goes on. And you will not know what someone’s pronouns are until you ask! And while most people use one or a combination of he, she and they – there are many more pronouns out there – see chart for details! So, remember, it’s always better to ask than to assume!

Change #2

Normalize sharing pronouns. When doing a round of introductions, be sure to add pronouns in addition to name, title or whatever else you are asking people to share about themselves. You can also ask people to add pronouns to name-tags for in-person events or to their display name in virtual settings. Another way to normalize pronoun sharing is by adding them to your email signature or in your social media profiles (Instagram just recently added a dedicated section for pronouns). The more we ask and share our pronouns, the more it will become second nature. In turn, this means those who have felt most marginalized by not having a dedicated time/space to share their gender identity will feel more included and more importantly, respected.

Change #3

Use gender inclusive language. While we’re so used to hearing “Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls,” we need to retire this kind of phrasing. Let’s leave gender out of it! You can address a group of people by saying “Good morning everybody!” “Good morning team!” or maybe even, “Good morning party people!” -- if that’s the kind of operation you run. And if you are talking about someone and want to use their pronouns instead of their name, but you don’t know their pronouns -- it’s okay to use they! In fact, you probably have done this without even knowing it. Ever have someone in a group leave an item behind but didn't know who it belonged to? You probably said: “Who left their jacket??”

These are simple changes but of course, like anything new, it will take practice. So don’t be hard on yourself if you make a mistake. Mistakes happen! If you use the wrong pronouns and you catch yourself, don’t wallow in your mistake. Instead, apologize, correct yourself and move on. When you drag out an apology, it becomes more about you than the person you offended. It is then up to them to make you feel better about your mistake when they shouldn’t have to. You also don’t need to make someone else feel bad if/when they make a mistake. Just gently correct them either by making a point to say the person’s pronouns correctly or remind/inform the person if it seems like they forgot or didn’t know.

Lastly, remember that pronouns aren’t preferred they just are what they are. As LGBTQ+ sensitivity and inclusion thought leader, Ashlee Fowlkes, writes:

"Liking white wine more than red wine is a matter of preference— enjoying

saltwater fishing over freshwater fishing is a matter of preference— choosing white rice

over brown rice is a matter of preference. But pronouns? Pronouns, at least for most

people, are not a matter of preference but a statement of fact." (Forbes, 2020)

Written by Katie Avila Loughmiller

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