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At some point, many of us have accidentally wronged someone by not using their preferred pronoun. We may indeed be diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) professionals, but we recently made the same mistake. It may feel embarrassing at the moment, and you may scramble to make amends.
“Gender equivalency” refers to someone using a pronoun or address that does not accurately reflect the gender with which the individual identifies. An example is using the pronoun “he” to refer to a trans woman. It may seem like a minor issue to some, but it can be extremely damaging and alienating to members of the trans community and those who identify as non-binary. In short, misgendering is the opposite of promoting inclusion and belonging.
Related: Inclusion starts during the hiring process. Here’s how to do it.
Getting pronouns right in the workplace is essential. For many transgender people, their choice of pronouns is a deeply personal aspect of their identity. Being wrong constantly and repeatedly can be as dehumanizing as not acknowledging your existence. It can make them feel like they are not being seen, accepted or respected by their peers. As a result, they may dread coming to work, disconnect and disconnect, and start looking for a new job.
Here are six simple ways to make pronoun discovery easier for your employees.
Create a safe and inclusive environment from the start
Your work culture should be inclusive, open and respectful. No matter how many meetings you go to, videos you watch or books you read, if the work environment is not globally inclusive and promotes diversity, there will always be a barrier. Cultivating a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusion will make employees feel comfortable revealing their pronouns and being authentic.
Educate yourself and your team on the importance of using the correct pronouns for someone
Remember that not everyone is an DEI professional or has training and experience in the more nuanced and layered aspects of diversity and inclusion, so break down the basics. Many people only know gender as binary: he or she. Education helps to understand the whole spectrum, including non-binary identities who can use gender-neutral pronouns, such as they/them. At its core, using the identifying words that each person wants to be used is a matter of respect. When we get it wrong, we burn the bridge of connection from our end. Educating yourself and your team can help create a more inclusive environment.
Standardize the conversation around pronouns
Create opportunities for employees to share their pronouns during new employee orientations or onboarding. If you’re not sure which pronouns a person prefers, just ask. It is better to respect them by asking than to make an assumption that could be harmful. Allies can also be encouraged to add their pronouns to email signatures and name badges, further normalizing pronoun conversations across the organization.
Respect everyone’s privacy
Not everyone is comfortable sharing their pronouns publicly. Be sure to respect an individual’s privacy and leave the decision to disclose to individuals. Normalizing a conversation is different from being intrusive and intrusive. Be mindful of the energy and the individual and operate with care and compassion.
Use the correct pronouns
If you make a mistake and use the wrong pronoun, apologize and correct yourself. It is essential to show that you are committed to using the correct pronouns. The most significant thing is to have a sincere and positive intention. People will recognize and respect someone who has a genuine and good faith intention but makes a mistake. We are all working together to create the ideal workplaces and societies, and part of that work is the ability to recover from missteps.
Lead by example
As an employer, you have control over the tone set in your workplace. Educating employees about pronoun use and pronoun appropriateness demonstrates that your organization is a place that embraces diversity and inclusion. Leading by example will make staff feel comfortable when it comes to their gender.
Identifying words such as pronouns and a person’s correct name is important to people. Some people use their middle name or a nickname for various reasons, and they wouldn’t want someone to call them by the wrong name. You will feel slighted, belittled and dismissed if someone uses the wrong name when addressing you.
Related: Why inclusive collaboration is the answer to a company’s most existential threats
Inclusive leaders must learn to use pronouns to show respect. Be the example of the ideal workplace culture and create belonging. Respectful use of pronouns helps you and your employees create a more inclusive workplace for everyone. A better future starts with a new culture and a new work culture starts with leadership.
Pride month may be over, but the struggles that members of the LGBTQIA+ community face at home and at work are still a 365-day issue. The rates of abuse and homicide towards trans women have been increasing in recent years.
Note that we are talking about identifying words and pronouns; we are not talking about a small issue or just words. It’s a human issue. It recognizes someone’s existence as authentic, valid, and most importantly, valuable.