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Pronouns in the Workplace

As members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community, most of us understand the importance of using the correct pronouns for each person. This is particularly important for those who may not use traditional male/female pronouns, or the pronouns they might have been assigned at birth. This is an especially relevant issue because we use pronouns frequently, and they confirm people’s gender identity. While most of us are used to supporting our fellow community members in this way, many are only used to doing so socially, i.e., with people we know, at LGBTQ+ events, etc.

When someone tells us their correct pronouns, we are all obligated to use those pronouns. This is very important in the workplace. Using people’s correct pronouns is respectful, creates a feeling of welcomeness, and supports a tolerant environment. Misgendering someone (using someone’s incorrect pronouns) is hurtful and insulting. As you can read at the National Institute of Health’s (NIH’s) website, “Intentional refusal to use someone’s correct pronouns is equivalent to harassment and a violation of one’s civil rights.” (https://dpcpsi.nih.gov/sites/default/files/NIH-Draft-Guidance-on-Pronouns-Usage-PUBLIC-Final-v3-508.pdf) That’s right, someone using your incorrect pronouns repeatedly and purposefully is a legal offense. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of many personal attributes, including sex. The Supreme Court has interpreted Title VII to mean that the illegality of discrimination based on sex also means that discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation is also illegal. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined that misgendering or misnaming employees is harassment and illegal. When done intentionally and repeatedly, this creates a hostile work environment.

What can we do to help those who need support in being referred to by correct pronouns, especially if our own pronouns match the sex we were assigned at birth? You can start by sharing your pronouns in the workplace, and by inviting others to do the same. However, remember that for some, sharing their true pronouns is essentially coming out. Never force someone to share their pronouns, and never question someone’s pronouns when shared. Requiring the sharing of pronouns can also give the impression of “forced” allyship. And never refer to someone’s pronouns as “preferred” or “chosen” – they are neither. Someone’s pronouns are simply that – the correct pronouns to use for that person.

Some easy ways to share your own pronouns at work is in your email signature block, on your business cards, and on name tags. Some wear pronoun pins on their lapels or lanyards. You can always choose to share your pronouns when introducing yourself as well. The more we normalize sharing our pronouns, the more comfortable everyone will be sharing their pronouns. Listen when people share pronouns and do your best to use them. If you make a mistake, apologize quickly, correct yourself, and move on.

For more information, see the link above and the resources listed there.

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