I Am Here: Pronoun Visibility and Why It Matters
By Priscilla Martindale
July 15, 2021 | 5 minutes
Marketing Management and Leadership Management of Individual Personnel Firm Organizational Structure and Dynamics Department Management and Motivation Content Type Article Additional Options Content Level: Essential
Workplaces are recognizing more than ever that our gender is not the same as the sex assigned to us at birth. This refreshing shift in realization has brought about an increase in personal pronouns being added by professionals to email signatures and/or social media bios, leadership sharing their views on the importance of language in our workplace, and encouragement of more visible pronoun use within our organizations.
At a simple yet meaningful foundational level, accurate pronoun usage acknowledges and validates our identity; these aren’t just words people hope to be referred to as — it is who they intrinsically are.
Language is an integral aspect of any employee experience. It allows us to reveal and bring our true selves to work, creates a workplace where everybody feels welcomed, and leads to greater productivity, creativity, and connectivity with our colleagues and work culture.
What Are Pronouns?
Pronouns are descriptive words used to replace specific people, places or things. Personal pronouns describe how people talk about themselves and others, and convey a person’s gender identity which may not align with the sex a person was assigned at birth. People who fall under the transgender umbrella — such as those who are transgender, nonbinary or gender nonconforming — may choose to use pronouns that don’t represent the characteristic male or female gender categories of “she/her,” “he/him,” and may instead use pronouns like “they/them/their.”
Why Does Pronoun Mindfulness Matter?
Gendered language sneaks its way into everyday speech and unintentionally encourages outdated power structures. It leads to improved communication and avoids the unintended habit of misgendering someone. This occurs when we refer to, relate to or use language to describe a person that doesn’t align with their stated gender and can be considered a form of discrimination.
Pronouns also normalize conversations about gender. Whether you are transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, or have a name given at birth that could be mistaken for a different gender, the truth is we can’t always tell, nor should we assume. It also takes the pressure off colleagues or clients from having to explain their identity time and again. It deflects the negative shroud often worn as a result of repeatedly being labeled something other than they truly are, ultimately raising their self-esteem.
At a simple yet meaningful foundational level, accurate pronoun usage acknowledges and validates our identity.
Learning about the diverse range of pronouns available can be overwhelming, and determining what to do or how to do it with grace can be confusing. Proactively accommodating colleagues and clients by learning more about gender-inclusive language is doable and essential.
As professionals and leaders within our industry, we encourage each of you to continue developing our own gender literacy program until it becomes a natural aspect of our lexicon.
If referring to someone before we know what pronoun they prefer, consider using gender-neutral pronouns like “they/them/their,” refer to them by using their given name or simply ask them which pronouns they use.
If introducing a speaker at an event or supporting lawyers in this role, practice saying aloud a person’s pronoun in connection with their name in private to reduce the chances of making a blunder when it counts. If you’ve made a mistake, don’t ignore it — acknowledge it and apologize quickly. Never assume that a person’s pronoun remains the same, too. A family member of mine is transitioning and they know they’re on the transgendered spectrum somewhere. They haven’t yet determined exactly where they fall and are testing the waters.
A simple tactic for companies is to introduce gender pronouns into employee communication through email signatures, online bios and business cards. This signals to others that we respect and acknowledge them as the person they are, while normalizing organizational and societal cultural shifts which contribute to a more inclusive workplace.
In considering these general guidelines, our LMA community will continue to thrive by promoting healthy, meaningful discussion and action around this very important topic. As a result, we’ll foster an inclusive environment for all.