At least once in your lifetime, you may have been addressed incorrectly by someone, whether over the phone, in an email, or in person. Though we may correct them in person, we often don’t correct errors over email or letters. And that’s where we go wrong. We don’t realise that misgendering has many negative consequences.
According to a study of transgender people, 32.8% felt stigmatised when they were misgendered, negatively affecting their self-esteem and productivity. But what exactly is misgendering?
Let’s begin by answering the question, “What does she/her mean? Or him/his?” These are gender-specific pronouns that describe women and men, respectively. However, using him for women and her for men would be considered misgendering. If you are unaware of a person’s preferred pronouns, using they/them/theirs rather than he or she would be best. A group of professional linguists voted "they" as the word of the year in 2015, supporting gender-neutral language.
Understanding gender pronouns symbolises the value of diversity and inclusion in an organisation. Maintaining respect for all cultures, backgrounds, and diversities can contribute to an organisation’s success. This article will discuss the different practices you must incorporate and avoid at your workplace.
What does she/her mean?
- A pronoun is a word that describes the nouns (name, place, animal, or thing). Similarly, gender pronouns are used to describe a person's identity without using their names.
- In other words, they reflect the gender identity of a person. Today, gender identity is much more than the previously thought binary of male or female.
- Hence, it is essential to communicate with the right words, pronouns, and language. These act as a mark of respect toward other individuals.
- For example, Kamal uses she/her/hers pronouns. However, if you use he/him/his to address Kamal, this will be an act of misgendering and, thus, disrespectful to her. Hence, it is necessary to identify and use the correct gender pronouns.
Do's and Don’ts to Implement Pronouns in the Workplace
Following are some tips to implement gender pronouns at your workplace.
Do proper research
“Half knowledge is dangerous,” which means that you should conduct thorough research on any topic before discussing it. Merely saying you support diversity only to implement it halfway is a waste. Thus, since gender neutrality is still a relatively new concept, you might want to learn about it in detail. Today, you can find multiple blogs and social media content on the topic.
You may take a while to grasp gender neutrality fully, and thus, you may feel unsure. However, you should not shy away from it. Instead, if you are uncertain about addressing a person, all you need to do is ask them. For instance, you can ask, “Do you mind me asking what pronouns you use?”
It is perfectly natural to ask someone their pronouns. In fact, as per the research, 90% of the respondents said they were comfortable answering sexual identity questions. Before starting a meeting, you can also ask, “Is it okay if we go over the pronouns quickly?”. Just remember to be polite and respectful when you ask such questions.
Do train staff members
An organisation’s success and reputation depend on all its members. An employee spends most of their time with their colleagues. Thus, staff must also cooperate and respect each other to ensure that gender identity inclusion is followed across the organisation. They can be encouraged to ask questions for clarity to understand, such as “what does she/her mean?” If there is any discrimination or bullying, it can hamper employees’ self-esteem and productivity. It can also cause depression.
Do it in writing
An organisation can show its support of inclusivity and gender diversity by putting it into action, like introducing it in your company's policies is a good idea. While executing contracts, include gender pronouns in email signatures. The wider the use, the faster the acceptance and normalcy of these pronouns.
Now that we have talked about what to do, let’s see what we can avoid when it comes to ensuring inclusivity in the workplace.
Don’t make assumptions
It is very common to address and judge someone based on their appearance. However, you may not always be right. Instead, ask them their preferred pronouns privately. The best way is to introduce yourself with your pronouns and ask others to share theirs. You can even use it as your ID when in a Zoom call.
Don’t ignore misgendering
When you see someone misgendering a colleague, speak up and correct them politely. This way, you make sure that you correct the individual and offer support to your team member.
Don’t be afraid of mistakes
When we put our theoretical knowledge into action, it is common to make mistakes. Do not hesitate to ask questions such as “what does she/hear mean?”. These mistakes teach us to be better, and we must not be afraid of them. When someone points out your mistake, don’t get defensive. Instead, say, “thank you for correcting me.”
Don't be overly critical of yourself
As said before, it is okay to make mistakes. However, don’t beat yourself up over it or feel incredibly guilty. Acknowledge and accept the error graciously, politely apologise to the person concerned, remember it for the future, and move on.
This article gives you a detailed overview of what practices you must follow to avoid any gender pronoun discrimination such as what does she/her mean at your workplace. Remember that gender identity is a personal affair, and we must respect an individual’s privacy.
There might even be people who are not comfortable disclosing their pronouns or answering questions about the same. Hence, you must not force it. The world is becoming knowledgeable and progressive towards diversity, but we still have a long way to go.
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