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    Using Gender Pronouns in the Workplace: It Matters

    By Nancy Geenen–

    More and more organizations in the United States have started introducing gender pronouns into the simple, everyday but highly visible parts of their work-life such as email signatures and LinkedIn profiles. Why is this important?

    Pronouns are what we use daily to self-identify and signal our identity to others. We use gender pronouns to shift the emphasis from a biological focus, which says “this person is a male or a female,” toward a gender-based identity, which says “man, woman, neither, both—or somewhere in between.”

    This notion isn’t always easy to grasp, but it can be done. For example, I am a baby boomer who can be traditional in my thinking. I remember having a conversation with one of my daughters about the way she wrote her papers without specific pronouns. I said to her, “You can’t write ‘they is’ in your paper—it’s grammatically incorrect,” and she quickly responded with, “Yes, we write this way now, and here’s why.”

    That moment symbolizes that we are all constantly learning. Although I spend much of my time educating others on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) principles, I don’t get it right all the time. We all need to be open to consistently learning and trying again when we make a mistake or cause harm.

    Using gender pronouns is a great signal to the world (internally in the workplace and externally to clients and stakeholders) that this workplace recognizes and acknowledges people’s identities. At the core, people want to be seen and heard. Especially in the workplace, employees want to know that they work for organizations that recognize who they are and that they matter.

    It’s that simple.

    Recently, I had a conversation with someone about DEI strategies and implementation because the company she works for decided that it was not going to use gender pronouns in its email signatures, nor allow individuals to make changes themselves. Why? They said it would be too difficult to manage the individual preferences throughout the company. Seeing identity as just an individual preference is troubling. Systemic change often starts with the individual. This reluctance to correct systemic harm is the type of attitude that holds back positive cultural change in workplaces across America.

    A better response, “Yes, let’s do the small things to signal change is possible. Yes, transformation takes time and some changes take more effort than others. But eventually, it will become so natural we won’t even think about it.”

    After all, “everything seems impossible until it isn’t.”

    I believe it’s our responsibility as employers to shoulder the burden of gender identification and systemic change. The power of mattering and belonging is seeing our employees as they want to be seen, not as we want to see them. If we collectively care about our workplaces, our colleagues, and the culture of our organizations, we need to work on educating ourselves about gender pronouns and why they are important.

    How do we introduce gender pronouns in the workplace?

    There are several ways to introduce gender pronouns in the workplace.

    Asking a new colleague, “What pronouns do you use?” is an invitation. It says, “I see you for who you are, not how I expect you to show up.” When making introductions, say, “This is Chris; Chris uses they and theirs for pronouns.” That’s powerful. Allowing employees to use preferred gender pronouns in email signatures, in Zoom names, or LinkedIn profiles is a simple change. These external signals indicate an inclusive and equitable workplace.

    A workplace where colleagues make the effort to be inclusive is a place that provides psychological safety for every individual in the organization. It is a place that is open and honest and allows every individual to bring their whole selves to work every day.

    With this in mind, I urge organizations to be open about gender identification, to work towards being more equitable and inclusive, and to create an environment that allows individuals to show up every day at their best.

    Nancy Geenen (she/her/hers) is Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Golden Gate Business Association, the SF Bay Area’s LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce. Geenen is also Principal of Flexability, a workplace equity & inclusion consulting firm. Flexability is a certified LGBT Business Enterprise and can be reached at https://www.flexability.com/

    GGBA Message from Leadership
    Published on October 6, 2022