A Guide to Gender Pronouns in the Workplace
Many employers seek to emphasize diversity and inclusion in today’s workplace, and gender pronouns are an important part of the puzzle. In fact, recent Pew Research revealed that about one in five U.S. adults know someone who goes by a gender-neutral pronoun.
According to the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion, gender pronouns are “words that a person uses to describe themselves or would like others to describe them.” For people who are cisgender – or whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex – common pronouns would be she/her/hers or he/him/his. But people who identify as non-binary or otherwise prefer non-gender categories may use they/them/theirs.
The use of appropriate gender pronouns in the workplace can help people feel seen and respected. Here are some practices you can bring to your own organization.
Find ways to signal inclusiveness
There are several ways that you and employees can indicate that you’re mindful of gender pronouns. For instance, you might add pronouns to your display name in video meetings, or to your identification line in emails.
“I’ve put my gender pronouns in my email signature, along with a little linked explanation to say ‘if you want to learn more about why I decided to have this, click here,’” says Laura Todd, director of inclusion and wellbeing for Randstad UK&I. “It’s a really simple thing I can do, but it’s really powerful to people. It’s showing that I’m an ally, that I respect all the different gender types that there are.”
You can also put your gender pronouns on your LinkedIn profile and on your resume. “I have used it on my CV, and when I was asked in a few interviews why, it prompts a really interesting conversation,” Todd says.
Consider your paperwork
There are many opportunities for your employer to stumble on gender pronouns, and you may not even be thinking about it. For instance, what are the gender options on your job applications? Is there a spot for an applicant to signal their preferred name, versus their legal name, which may be different?
“In your HR system, if you ask for whether somebody is a Miss, Ms. Mrs., or Mr., consider Mx,” Todd says. “By having the ‘Mx’ option, for somebody who is non-binary, it shows that you are recognizing that those people are important and that they exist in society, that you see them.”
Include the question in recruiting
As part of your HR practice, consider having your recruiters ask interviewees if they have a preferred way they’d like to be addressed. And this should be asked to all interviewees across the board.
“It’s a really simple question that the interviewer can ask, but it’s a question to ask to everybody,” Todd says. “I might look like a woman but I might identify as a man, or I might be non-binary but I look female. If it’s going to be asked, it should be asked of everybody.”
The lesson is that it’s okay to ask, and it’s okay if you make a mistake. “It literally is about saying, ‘I want to respect you as an individual,’” Todd says. “If you’re really not sure or really not comfortable, just use that person’s name.”
Be respectful of gender transitions
It may happen that someone who is transitioning has a passport with their old identity on it. Or if you’re asking for job references, you might be calling references who knew that person as another gender identity.
Always refer to people in terms of how they identify now, not how they identified in the past. “The identity needs to be treated with respect and sensitivity,” Todd says.
Understand your intentions
If your goal, as an entity, is to signal that diversity and inclusion are important to you, respecting gender pronouns is a good step.
“When we want to be inclusive, and we want to show respect of the individual, gender identity is important,” Todd says. “It’s a simple thing we can do, but it shows real respect to the way that person identifies their gender and that we see them as individuals.”
Not sure what certain pronouns mean? This chart can help
|Pronouns||In a sentence|
|she/her/hers||She wants you to use her pronouns.|
|he/him/his||He wants you to use his pronouns.|
|ze/hir||Ze wants you to use hir pronouns.|
|they/them/theirs||They want you to use their pronouns.|
|co/cos||Co wants you to use cos pronouns.|
|No pronoun/name (use the person’s name instead of a pronoun)||___ (name) wants you to use ___ (name) pronouns.|
|xe/xem/xyr||Xe wants you to use xyr pronouns.|
|Hy/hymn/hys||Hy wants you to use hys pronouns.|
Inclusivity in hiring is important for all
The more inclusive you can be, the more candidates you can welcome into your hiring process and the broader your talent pool becomes. Want to learn more strategies for diverse hiring? Download our free Guide to Creating More Diverse Hiring.