We are living in extraordinary times! As a society that’s becoming increasingly polarized, we have grown comfortable setting up house on the fringes and at opposite ends of the spectrum. We’re highly sensitive and radically insensitive all at once. We demand respect but treat other people like they don’t matter. We want to be heard yet make a habit of closing our ears to the thoughts, experiences and needs of those who are different from us.
What is a Pronoun?
Grammatically speaking, pronouns are words we use to substitute for nouns or noun phrases. They can be singular, plural, and non-gender specific; think “you,” “me,” “we,” “us,” and “they.” Pronouns can also be gender specific like “she,” “her,” “he” and “him”. When using the latter, we typically do so based on the assumption of an individual’s outward appearance. However, our assumptions aren’t always correct and aren’t necessarily in keeping with how an individual sees themselves and prefers to be addressed.
Why are Pronouns Important?
I say it all the time, change is one of the few constants in life. The world, our language and ideas have evolved and will likely continue to do so. Personal pronouns are nothing new. What is different is our shift toward using more gender inclusive language. For example, most people no longer use the collective “he” or “she” when referring to all doctors, judges or nurses and flight attendants. Just as we no longer use the term “policemen” when referring to all law enforcement officers.
Society has also developed an understanding that sometimes, the physical attributes with which one is born may not align with their gender at birth or their self-perception. And thus, using our gender-based assumptions to address others, can be wrong and wounding. To remedy this, our language has shifted to be inclusive of the transgender and gender non-conforming communities by encouraging individuals to identify their preferred personal pronouns.
Using an individual’s correct personal pronouns is a way of showing respect for them and their experience. It’s akin to properly pronouncing an individual’s name or acknowledging their appropriate title (doctor, professor etc.).
Which Pronouns Do You Use?
Over the past few years, you’ve increasingly seen individuals include their personal pronouns on email signatures, LinkedIn bios, conference name badges and even resumes. The choice to do so is an individual one. When transgender and gender non-conforming individuals do so, it’s born from a desire to be seen for who they are. When a cisgender individual chooses to do so, it’s often to be an ally, to be inclusive and not operate from a place of privilege and assumption.
I end this post where it began which is by asking whether personal pronouns matter? And my answer is a resounding YES! Gender pronouns matter as they support our efforts to be inclusive and respectful. Utilizing them can serve as a way for us to re-connect with the humanity and lived experiences of others.
- To create more inclusive and safe spaces, leave the “ladies and gentlemen” behind and use universal language when addressing groups and individuals. For example, the following greetings are gender non-specific: Friends, colleagues, guests, people.
- When in doubt about an individual’s pronouns and you need to know, simply introduce yourself, share your pronouns (“I go by she/her), and ask how you should refer to them.
- Alternatively, you can always refer to an individual by using their first name.
- If you use the wrong pronoun, it’s important to acknowledge it, apologize and correct yourself. Don’t make a bigger deal of the circumstance but do follow up with the individual if that feels like the right thing to do.
If you have any questions regarding the use of gender pronouns in the workplace please contact me here.