People with different gender identities and expressions than the norm are increasingly entering the workplace. While many transgender people identify, as either male or female, some may instead refer to themselves as “gender fluid,” or “non-binary”. They may decide to use gender-expansive pronouns such as “they, them, and theirs” instead of the gendered ones. And if any of your colleagues, classmates, or friends fall into this category then you should know how to respect their decisions.
Addressing a person by their chosen pronouns is a basic courtesy. The experience of accidentally misgendering someone can be embarrassing for both parties. It can ruin friendship or rapport and work relationships and create tension across colleagues. Everyone deserves to have their self-ascribed pronouns and names respected in the workplace. So what should you do to create a safe environment for transgender employees?
Educate yourself & Practice
Language is fluid and ever-evolving, so our language needs to be updated. Make an effort to educate yourself on this important topic. If you don’t have experience using gender-neutral pronouns, it may not seem grammatically correct. It is going to be a journey of unlearning and becoming more aware of our unconscious biases.
Using gender-neutral pronouns or repeating someone’s name is a useful solution, but it’s a temporary one. If you continue to avoid this issue then it would only mean that you don’t care enough. So, it can be helpful to practice using they/them pronouns. It shows that you care.
Don’t assume, ask first
Just because someone presents themselves in a particular fashion does not mean they choose to use the pronouns we assume they do. Asking them about the pronouns they prefer is the best option. Defaulting to using “they” until you find out what pronoun your colleague uses also can be helpful.
If you are confused then simply ask what their pronouns are or what pronouns they use.
Share yours if needed
An easy way to start conversations surrounding inclusive pronouns in the workplace is to start with yourself, especially if you are cisgender (Cisgender is a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth). Introduce yourself with your name and pronoun to start open and positive conversations surrounding this topic. This will allow your colleagues and classmates the opportunity to do so as well.
Be respectful & acknowledge your mistake
Learn to respect your gender-fluid colleagues and use the correct form of their pronouns while interacting. If you unintentionally use the wrong pronoun, apologize quickly and sincerely. Take accountability and then move on. If you make a big deal out of the situation, then it is just going to be more uncomfortable for everyone involved.
Be aware of other inclusive languages
Pronouns aren’t the only aspect of gendered language. It is important to be aware of the assumptions we are making by using gendered language like- “Good Morning, ladies/Gentlemen” or “you guys”. Because non-binary people can feel excluded by these addresses. Even an apparent inclusive term such as “ladies and gentlemen” can be problematic because it doesn’t refer to the ones who fall outside of the binary. You can greet by saying “Good Morning Everybody” and use inclusive terms such as “friends”, “folks”, “everyone” etc.
If you notice someone using the wrong pronouns to refer to someone, correct them politely. Discreetly let them know the correct pronouns to use, don’t be rude. This is a really simple and effective method of demonstrating inclusivity. The responsibility for correcting pronouns does not just fall with trans and non-binary people. Cisgender people should also contribute to the discussion and education around pronouns.
Everyone should have the option of articulating their preferred pronoun. The experience of being misgendered can be hurtful, frustrating, and even distracting. Creating a sense of belonging for all of our friends, colleagues, and classmates is extremely important to spreading positivity. It can make a huge difference to their mental well-being and academic or workplace performance. So, try to play your part in creating an environment that welcomes people with diverse identities.