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Why Pronouns Matter

One of the most important ways to foster inclusion and show respect is to use someone’s preferred personal pronouns. Pronouns are an integral part of who we are as indicators for self-identification. Creating opportunities to share preferred nicknames, name pronunciation, and personal pronouns is vital to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts. As conversations continue around what gender pronouns are and why they’re important, it’s key for businesses and organizations to understand their value and promote their correct usage.

What are pronouns?

Pronouns are used in place of a person’s name, and for some people, the traditional binary genders of male or female do not accurately describe who they are. In fact, The Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, released research in 2019 that found one in four LGBTQ youth identified as outside of the gender binary. Therefore, for queer, gender nonconforming, nonbinary, and transgender people, the most commonly used pronouns of he/she may not fit, and could create discomfort or cause stress and anxiety. Although there are many different pronouns options, the most common are she/her, he/him, they/them, and ze/zir. Some people use various pronoun combinations, and others adhere strictly to one set.

Being inclusive through pronouns

One way to show that you are interested in learning a person’s pronouns is to be intentional about using your own when introducing yourself. This signals to others that they can feel comfortable sharing theirs and that you will respect and use them correctly. To do this, you can state your name and follow it by saying which pronouns you use. You can also take this step online and choose to update your LinkedIn profile and email signature block to include your pronouns.

Staying educated and respectful

Being aware of the variations of pronouns may prevent embarrassing situations as well and will help ensure that our colleagues feel included and respected. If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, it’s best to use their first name or the gender-neutral “they.” It’s important to note that using incorrect pronouns, especially intentionally, can cause great distress for a person. If you make a mistake and accidentally use the wrong pronouns for someone, be sure to apologize and make a conscious effort to use their correct pronouns going forward. If you hear other colleagues incorrectly reference someone’s pronouns, let them know the correct ones to use and why it’s important to do so.

We all have parts of our identity that we are proud of that give us strength and pride. One of those parts is our pronouns, and when we use a person’s correct pronouns, we show our full respect for them.

Inclusive Power of Pronouns

Creating opportunities to share preferred nicknames, name pronunciation, and personal pronouns in team introductions is integral to our continued diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) journey.

As we recognize June as Pride Month, the reference to “pronouns” may occur. The most commonly used pronouns (he/she) specifically refers to a person’s gender. For queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and transgender people, these pronouns may not fit, create discomfort, and cause stress and anxiety. The use of first names should be used to reduce the risk of incorrect pronouns. However, educating ourselves on the variations of pronouns may prevent embarrassing situations from occurring. For example, a participant on a Zoom call corrected me when I invited everyone to add their preferred pronouns to their screens names. The feedback I received was ‘Please just ask for personal pronouns, not preferred pronouns since preferred implies a choice, and this is who I am. ”

This type of feedback provides the opportunity to learn from personal stories. We all have parts of our identity that we are proud of that give us strength and pride. In ERG meetings, I like to invite the panelists to use the icebreaker sentence “I am ____ but not _____” as a way to share those elements of their identity they are most proud of about themselves and to dispel common misperceptions. The terminology used continues to evolve, so it’s easier to share our identity elements first.

People can choose to update their Linkedin profiles and Instagram and their email signature block to add their pronouns.

For your reference, below are the most commonly used pronouns which continue to evolve:
Pronoun Variations
He/Him His, Himself
She/Her Hers, Herself
They/Them Theirs, themself
Ze (or Zie) Can also be spelled as xe

I often find that when I’m more intentional to use my pronouns in my self-introduction, it lets others know that I’m interested in learning theirs, too, if they are comfortable sharing. It is one of the ways that I act intentionally to foster a culture that celebrates diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging for all.

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