What are pronouns and why do they matter?

a group of coworkers

Today is International Pronouns Day – a day which encourages us to respect and build our knowledge on personal pronouns. To support this, we’re excited to share with you some tips on how you can use pronouns in the workplace.

Respecting people's pronouns is a critical part of creating spaces that are safe and welcoming of all genders. Taking the time to learn about them and how to use them means we can continue to create more inclusive workplaces for all.

You may have noticed people adding pronouns to their social media bios or email signatures and wondered why. Perhaps you’ve, without question, also added your pronouns to your name. So, let’s dig a little deeper. We’ll be discussing what pronouns are, who can use them, and how we can be more mindful and respectful to colleagues who choose to share their pronouns that others may not expect or fully understand.

What are pronouns?

If you refer to yourself as ‘he’ or ‘she’ – you use pronouns. Everyone does, and it can be all too easy to think that the conversation around pronouns should end there. But it isn’t that straightforward.

In fact, with shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Pose reaching mainstream audiences, we’re growing increasingly aware of people who don’t fit into the ‘he’ or ‘she’ boxes.  Regardless of their outward appearance, it can be jarring to have to use, or be called by, pronouns that don’t accurately match how they feel on the inside. Luckily, there are many different pronouns an individual can go by, but the most common gender-neutral terms are ‘they/them’.

How does the use of pronouns help organisations with ED&I?

Adding pronouns to your email signatures or on social media platforms helps others know how you’d like to be addressed. It can help to avoid potentially awkward conversations, even if those pronouns are the ‘typical’ kind. For example, displaying pronouns can help non-binary people (those who feel neither male or female) and transgender individuals. Even if you identify as cisgender (the sex you were given at birth), displaying your pronouns shows solidarity and helps normalise the acceptance of differences in the workplace.

It can also answer the question of how someone with a more typically gender-neutral name identifies (i.e. Jas, Ali, Justice, Kai – the list goes on) and avoid any awkward first encounters.

All that said, you might be asking, “why show solidarity if you don’t feel that this is an issue that affects you?” Equity, diversity and inclusion affects everyone. They are core values for many organisations, and showing support is important for fostering a positive workplace culture where everyone feels they can bring their authentic selves to work. That’s not to say you must include pronouns in your email signature, but taking steps to become better educated, more open-minded and considerate of your colleagues is a great place to start. It’s about respecting people’s pronouns and their right to use them.

Why are we talking about this now?

According to a LinkedIn poll* we ran at the beginning of Pride month, an overwhelming 78 per cent of respondents said their organisations do not offer any educational materials or training around gender and pronouns. However, as the younger generations enter the workforce – who are more likely to have more awareness, opinions and knowledge of the topic – we could see this change. This would help future employees feel as welcomed and respected as everyone else, and help them to bring their best selves to work and stick around.

Being supportive of people who don’t fit into the gender norms doesn’t mean you necessarily have to change anything about yourself or how you operate. If adding your own pronouns to your email signature or social media doesn’t feel right, that’s fine – but a great step in the right direction is to have an open mindset, a respectful attitude, and a willingness to learn, even if you’re not part of the community who are directly affected or impacted.

*The LinkedIn Poll received 1,646 votes.

About this author

Adam Shapley, Managing Director, Hays New Zealand and Hays IT Australia & New Zealand, began working at Hays in 2001 and during this time has held significant leadership roles across the business including responsibility for multiple specialisms in various locations across Australia & New Zealand.

In 2018, he was appointed to Hays ANZ Management Board and made Managing Director for Hays New Zealand.

Adam is also responsible for the strategic direction of the Hays Information Technology business across Australia & New Zealand including driving growth across Digital Technology, Projects & Business Change and IT Operations & Support.

Follow Adam on LinkedIn

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