Understanding Personal Pronouns
No matter which gender pronoun you use, you can promote correct usage for all in your workplace.
Personal pronouns are probably things you never give a second thought, especially if you are someone who identifies as a cisgender male or female, meaning if your gender identity corresponds with the sex that you were identified as having at birth. Your gender pronouns are either he or she, him or her. But as we know, every individual’s gender identity is personal, and it may not always conform to others’ perceptions. Asking someone, "What are your pronouns?" is a step toward inclusivity.
We’ve been conditioned our whole lives to make assumptions about people’s genders based on their names or appearances, and unfortunately, these assumptions can often act as barriers to a more inclusive society. There are many people who do not follow the traditional, binary concept of male or female, and instead identify as genderfluid or genderqueer, for example.
Imagine how you would feel as a man who was constantly called she, or a woman who was referred to as him—then you can begin to see how it feels to be called something that doesn’t reflect who you are. As we move toward a more inclusive society and workplace, it’s a good idea to get educated about the power of personal pronouns so that everyone can feel comfortable, respected, and accepted.
Why Personal Pronouns Are Important
Just as taking the time to correctly pronounce someone’s name is a sign of caring and respect, asking for and then using their personal pronouns is another way to show that their feelings matter. On the contrary, not using their preferred gender pronoun can make someone feel devalued and alienated.
With a little effort and awareness on everyone’s part, it’s an easy language fix that can make for a more inclusive environment for all.
Some Examples of Gender Pronouns
Most people know that she/her and he/him refer to female and male, respectively, but there are some gender pronouns that those with other gender identities may prefer to use.
While you might have been taught in grammar lessons that they/them are plural nouns, they can also be used as singular, third-person gender pronouns—meaning they/them can refer to an individual. Usually, they/them is a preferred pronoun for a person who does not identify as a male or female. It would look something like this: “Sam is a teacher. They are passionate about their job.”
Another pronoun option that some people use is ze/hir. As you can see, these do not refer to a specific gender, and can therefore be more inclusive. For example: “Jesse is our new intern. Ze comes to us from City College. Let's all welcome hir.”
How to Incorporate Personal Pronouns into the Workplace
Whether you’re a new employee or someone who supervises others, and no matter which personal pronoun you use, you can promote correct pronoun usage for all in your workplace. (For more tips on how to use gender pronouns in an inclusive and empowering way, visit Mypronouns.org.)
The best way to start is to share your pronouns when meeting new people. You can say: “Hello. My name is Jim, and I go by the pronouns he/him. What’s your name?” This is less direct than asking "What are your pronouns?" and helps give others the comfort level to share their preferences, even if the majority of staffers happen to go by their culturally assumed pronoun.
Of course, you should also be prepared to share why you’re doing this to someone who never was asked to share their gender pronouns before. Even better is if you can get your company on board to help educate employees as part of its gender inclusivity initiatives.
- If you are hosting a client meeting or attending an event outside of the office, get in the habit of writing your gender pronouns in the corner of your name tag.
- In your email signature, put your pronouns below your name.
- When making introductions, invite everyone to share their name and pronouns.
- Don’t forget to get in the habit of using other nonbinary, gender-neutral language, as well. For example, instead of “men and women” or “ladies and gentlemen,” try “friends, guests, and colleagues.”
Accidentally Using the Wrong Pronoun
Asking for people’s pronouns and using something other than he/she is a fairly new concept to many people. And, in some cases, people’s preferred gender pronouns may change over time. Therefore, it’s only natural that not everyone will get it right all the time—even those who are hyper-aware. The key is to acknowledge when you make a faux pas, and make a more concerted effort to get it right going forward.
If you accidentally use the wrong pronoun for someone, the best thing to do is keep it simple and apologize. “I’m so sorry, Taryn. I meant to say 'they' not 'she.'” Try not to go on and on about it since that can make the person feel even more uncomfortable.
If you realize it after the fact, you could take the person aside and offer a quick, private apology. Something like, “Someone pointed out to me that I didn’t use your correct pronouns earlier. Please accept my apology.”
Likewise, if you happen to hear another colleague use the wrong pronoun for someone, you can offer them a gentle reminder on the spot. “Bill, just want to remind you that Max goes by ‘they/them.’”
Support Your Co-Workers
Using the proper personal pronouns is one way to earn teammates' trust and become a valued part of any organization. Want to know how else you can bring your best self to the job every day? Monster can send free workplace insights and career advice directly to your inbox. From learning how to ask for help to strengthening your leadership traits, Monster offers guidance that's both practical and pivotal.