I was asked recently by a colleague why I add the pronoun She/Her to my LI profile. After giving it some thought, here’s what I answered: by putting pronouns after my name, I am giving clarity and sending a message that this is the correct pronoun for me. I am not alone in making this choice, and the reasons we add the pronouns include wanting to make it easier for others when dealing with a name that is unisex, or names in another language that people may be unfamiliar with, but mainly for those who are gender fluid and don’t identify as male or female.
I first added the pronouns about 2 years ago. At the time, I was working with someone who underwent gender reassignment surgery, and the company opened gender-neutral toilets in the office. This was my first experience with this issue, and it opened my eyes to what my colleague was going through. Conversations with them and hearing all about their frustrations led me to add the pronouns. If I could make people in a similar situation feel welcome by this small act, it was the very least we can do.
Many transgender people have experienced bullying and discrimination. However, when they see that someone acknowledges their gender, they see an ally and feel included knowing their gender choice will be respected. In our diverse world, it is a very small yet significant way to demonstrate inclusivity. It signals support and understanding, and if everyone adds the pronouns to their names, it normalizes it.
Can we insist people add pronouns?
While I want to add it to my name and want people to know that I see myself as female, I do not think an organization should insist upon such a rule. I have had this on my LinkedIn for over a year and have had many people ask me about it, most of whom adopted it themselves. After all, forcing a company policy is counterproductive as it doesn’t promote a culture of true belonging, which is the reason for the addition in the first place. Instead, the idea is to encourage a workplace where everyone feels comfortable showing up as their authentic selves, leading to happier people and, hopefully, greater productivity and lower churn rate. Many organizations have already begun to issue guidelines around pronouns. Goldman Sachs, Virgin, and Lloyds are examples of a few some prominent organizations that have issued guidelines around usage.
Plus, according to researchers in the US, over half of Americans are okay with using a gender-neutral pronoun when referring to another person. About 1 in 5 says they know someone who goes by such pronouns. I think in the future, we will see a greater push for pronouns, but it will happen organically. The issue of enforcing will be redundant as more and more people choose to identify how they want to be addressed.
Is this an HR issue?
First off, I believe it’s everyone’s issue! It is not down to just one department; we all need to get involved in the issue of D&I for it to mean something to all. In the US, using the preferred pronouns is a civil right. Stemming from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, any prohibition against sex discrimination also bans any employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. As noted in a recent SHRM article, the EEOC provides the following guidance: Title VII prohibits organizations from “intentionally and persistently failing to use the name and gender pronoun that correspond to the gender identity with which the employee identifies, and which the employee has communicated to management and employees.” Both supervisors and co-workers should use the employee’s chosen name and pronoun “in employee records and in communications with and about the employee.”
For me, regardless of the law, it is about inclusivity, and creating a safe and welcoming working environment for all. I am happy to identify and be identified as female and wish to offer others the same experience.
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