How to respect pronouns in workplace settings
By Ren Iris, Senior Technical Writer and Editor
Being yourself at work, whatever that environment entails (remote, hybrid, or on-site), can be a tricky endeavor. Or, unfortunately, it can be an agonizing one.
As a multiracial human who is also genderqueer and neurodivergent, I often ask myself the following questions:
How much is safe to share?
Who are the “safe” people I can trust with such information?
How important is sharing my identities with HR, colleagues, or supervisors?
Not everyone will want or feel able/safe to be fully themselves at work. Ideally, we’d all live in a world and work for organizations in which respect is the standard, a baseline. But since the ideal doesn’t prevent the real from occurring, I want to underscore that the decision to disclose identities in any capacity or not is a personal one, and it’s a decision all others should respect.
With all that said, let’s review the following actionable tips for addressing pronouns:
Provide options for a gender-fluid dress code and gender-neutral uniforms.
Detail the inclusiveness of company dress codes in your employee handbook.
Send HR tips via email or another relevant platform to acknowledge and celebrate differences (such as during Pride month, on visibility days, and quarterly).
Use gender-neutral language to address groups of people (yes, “You guys” or “Hi, ladies” is gendered language).
“I look forward to discussing this more with you all.”
Lead by example. List your own pronouns when introducing yourself.
“Hi, my name is Ren, and my pronouns are solely they/them.”
“My pronouns are they/them; share yours if you’re comfortable!”
Ask for someone’s pronouns when you’re unsure.
“My pronouns are they/them. What are yours?”
“I forgot to ask: What are your pronouns? Mine are they/them.”
Avoid assuming someone’s gender identity based on their appearance/gender expression.
When in doubt, ask for someone’s pronouns.
If the timing isn’t right (for example, if you’re in a meeting with external clients), continually use the person’s name; afterward, follow up individually.
Finally, remind yourself that pronouns are not preferences. Even if someone uses the word “preferred,” that doesn’t mean using someone’s pronouns is optional. No one is perfect, and people will understand an honest mistake. If you err, a simple apology (such as in a direct message) goes a long way. Doing so also helps prevent the misgendered person from feeling gaslighted or from questioning if they had imagined the misgendering incident.
So, let’s work together to support and respect one another. Because while workplace productivity is often a concern, people at minimum deserve human recognition.
Besides, happier people have more capacity for productivity!