As much as possible, companies hire new employees from a diverse pool of talent. This is because they want to practise a culture of diversity, equality, and inclusion. Despite that, employers today admit that there is a need to confront discrimination, prejudice, and microaggressions in the workplace.
One of the issues that need to be addressed is how managers and employees communicate and interact with LGBTQIA+ members of the company. A basic amount of respect is necessary, of course. To practise respect, we must understand that members of the LGBTQIA+ community often prefer pronouns that show their gender identity.
We’ve all been used to using specific gender pronouns for ourselves. For instance, it is socially expected that men use the “he/him” pronouns, while women use “she/her” pronouns. However, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are much more different than that.
There are others who identify as non-binary, which is an umbrella term for people who either identify as both male and female or reject the idea of binary genders at all. Non-binary people have identities outside the gender binary.
What are the pronouns used by non-binary people? They use gender-neutral pronouns such as “they/them.” According to YouGov America, about one-quarter of Americans personally know at least one person who goes by “they/them” instead of “he/him” or “she/her.”
Why using the right pronouns matters in the workplace
In an interview with The Adecco Group, Roberto Andres Ampuero Nawrath, a non-binary activist, said that when someone uses the wrong pronouns, it can feel hurtful and embarrassing.
Unfortunately, most cisgender hetero people, or people who identify with the sex and gender they were born into, do not understand how important it is to refer to someone using the right pronouns. Cisgender hetero people have the privilege of having their pronouns identified casually, but LGBTQIA+ people, particularly non-binary people, do not have that privilege.
With that being said, it is important to get people’s pronouns right in the workplace for three reasons.
We want to show respect to their identities. When we show basic respect, we also provide clarity for that employee’s colleagues and clients.
We want to ease the stress of non-binary people who get misidentified in the workplace. Non-binary people who get misgendered in the workplace experience higher levels of stress, which can cause decrease in productivity and increase in sick days.
We want to follow laws that explicitly protect based on their gender identity. Some states like California have laws that protect people, provided that they must be called by their correct pronoun and name regardless of whether legal change of pronouns and name has been done.
Nawrath said it can feel great to work in a safe space where one feels respected. They said that regardless of the person’s intention, when someone misgenders you, it can feel demeaning, and it can diminish a person’s identity.
How can you ask someone about their pronouns?
A person’s pronouns are not obvious when you meet them for the first time or even when you’ve known each other for a long time. Moreover, it is not helpful to just assume what they are. The best way to know another person’s pronouns is by first introducing yours, and then asking them what theirs are.
Nawrath said that if the person gets confused by the question, you should tell them that it’s your intention to refer to them correctly. They said that the question of gender pronouns should be built into daily life.
The basic reason to why we should a person’s pronouns is to respect their gender identity and not make them feel humiliated. Doing this can promote inclusivity in the company and improve employee relations.