Pronoun Policies And A Requirement Dilemma
I hear a lot of heartbreaking stories from parents and family members of trans people. They ask me questions about how their loved ones can advocate for themselves at work. How they can come out. How they can protect themselves.
It’s heartbreaking because I realize there’s often very little I can do. I can’t create a world where I can control the reactions. The stares. The awkward questions. I surely can’t make their parents believe it’ll be easy. They already know better. A lot of people are uncomfortable even discussing pronouns.
“What can I do?” They ask the question with all the hope in the world.
That’s how it felt when I got this latest message from a mom. Her kid was given a pronoun policy at work – one they didn’t morally align with.
She said: “Wanted to share the latest with my child discrimination challenges. They feel that they can not sign this policy, abide by it, and be their authentic self, so gave their resignation. I am actually driving down to help pack up their belongings as housing was provided with their employment. Any thoughts you have on how I can support them without trying to ‘solve’ it?”
Pronoun Policies Shouldn’t Mandate Who You Are
I can’t share all of the pronoun policy or background on how it came to be, but I can tell you this: I can’t imagine abiding by it. It was a commitment to silence – creating guidelines and criteria around where you are allowed to exist. Who you can disclose yourself to. A commitment to living in a closet at work. The worst part? Losing the job didn’t just mean losing money – it meant losing their housing, too.
It’s mortifying to me that companies are creating policies on pronouns as if we can mandate who you are. As if they have any right to tell someone who they can and can’t share their pronouns with. Sorry, but there’s no talk of values and equity with exclusion built in. You can’t tell me your values are “collaboration” and “transparency,” then tell queer people they can’t talk about pronouns.
I want to remind those companies that someday, they risk being featured in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. You can invest in your employer brand all you want, but if you’re bullshit when the curtains are pulled back? It doesn’t matter. That investment is null.
Don’t Use Pronouns To Give False Hope
With that said, in the past I’ve written about making pronouns mandatory.
I take it back.
I’m tired of the grand gestures with no action. I don’t think you should make pronouns mandatory because if people don’t understand what they are and how to use them? If they don’t understand that it’s hurting people when they get them wrong? If you don’t invest in educating people? Don’t give anyone false hope.
I don’t want you to have a culture of pronouns if it’s an inaccurate signal that someone can belong at your company. Don’t lie for your hiring benefit. I’m not interested.
Instead, invest in education instead of just creating pronoun policies. Create space to go outside of corporate templates. That’s what will bring us together and forward in our attempts to create more equitable workplaces.
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Kat Kibben View All →
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.
This exactly. Pronouns should not be mandated because when people put them in their signatures, it shows that they’re creating safe space. If everyone has them, it looks like safe space where it may not be. Right now the only people with pronouns in their signatures tend to be those with at least some understanding that there are people who need it normalized, who need safe spaces where their pronouns can be shared and where they’ll be respected. I’m being misgendered at work even though my pronouns are very prominent in my signature. But I know that there are some people who see them and respect them and some people who make an effort.