You’re nervous. Maybe you’ve been hearing about gender pronouns at work and it just feels intimidating. You don’t want to get it wrong. That’s embarrassing – for you, for them. I get it.
I also need you to know this one very important thing.
Whether you are in HR, Recruiting or are generally a human being existing on this planet, know that using pronouns can be as simple as this:
“Hello, my name is , my pronouns are________. How should I refer to you?”
I don’t think anyone expects you to perfectly integrate pronouns in all instances by the time you’ve read the entirety of this post. We have all grown up with the same conditioning. We all have the same snap judgments, a mental checklist of key indicators to operate on, a list we’ve all stored away in the catalogs of our brain. That’s how our brains work – we get intel and we make decisions.
What Pronouns Are There?
Change starts with education. There are several pronouns that extend outside of the binary. Let’s walk through the basics:
She/Her/Hers and He/Him/His – These are the pronouns you already know and although our brains are trained to use them, you may find that some folks use a label that doesn’t match your perceptions of gender. This is why it is so important to open the door during conversation/introductions to allow for folks to share the pronouns that feel best for them.
She/They or He/They – Chances are, these folks identify with a healthy balance of masculine and feminine energy. In all cases, you should integrate both pronouns as often as possible. Use “they” and “them” ever so often in circumstances where you would normally use “she” and “her”.
Ex. “She sent in her application for the new job opening. I have looked at their resume and they seem to be an excellent fit.” It is perfectly acceptable to use “they” and “them” when referring to a singular person. Our brains might tell us otherwise but think of a time when you’ve spoken about someone you’ve never met before.
They/Them/Theirs, Ze/Zir/Zirs, and Ze/Hir/Hirs – Many folks who use these pronouns identify as non binary, meaning they do not feel particularly drawn to either masculinity or femininity. Some might use these pronouns if they are feeling detached from the gender they were assigned at birth. Regardless of the reasoning, those using they/them pronouns should ONLY be referred to as “they” and “them”.
Misgendering: When Mistakes Makes People Feel Small
Incorrect pronouns happen, and we have to slow down long enough to course correct. Misgendering often happens mindlessly and usually doesn’t come from a place of harmful intent. It’s a genuine mistake. A habit. A factor of moving too fast.
It’s going to take a bit of time to undo those mental knots, but with conscious practice and daily integration, I have full faith that you can pave the way for a more inclusive and safe workplace.
Treat a mistake as if you’ve tripped on the sidewalk or fumbled the ball in a game. Catch yourself, course correct and move forward as if it never happened, if possible.
Ex. “She delivered, excuse me, they delivered an excellent presentation this morning.”
In no circumstance should you make a point to apologize to the person you have misgendered. It may seem like the polite thing to do but it ultimately puts a burden on the individual being misgendered to comfort those around them. In forcing another human to soothe you for your mistakes, you are furthering the idea that their pronouns are an extra item on your plate or something “unusual” that needs to be addressed.
By taking accountability for your own practice of correctly implementing pronouns, you create safe environments for all and help to further normalize the use of a range of pronouns regardless of how people present themselves.
Practice Makes Perfect: Sharing Gender Pronouns At Work Matters
Want to get it right? By integrating your own pronouns in day to day life, you are not only normalizing their use but also opening the door for others to share their pronouns with you.
This removes perception from the equation and allows folks to go beyond the binary from the get go.
Looking for more tips on how to integrate the use of pronouns at work? Take a peek at the video below!
At the end of the day, know that by simply reading this, you are an agent of change and an integral part of the movement for equal treatment. Put it into practice? Even better. Remember, if you get it wrong – that’s normal and human. Correct yourself and keep moving.
Katrina Kibben is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Three Ears Media. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions for engaging and hiring better people. Today, she uses her technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver content that fuels smart recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply.
Katrina has written for Monster.com, HR.com, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.