When we offer inclusivity training or counsel our clients on transgender rights in the workplace, we emphasize the right of everyone in the workplace to be known by the gender with which they identify and to be especially cognizant of the pronouns that are used about individuals. It often feels demeaning or mocking when someone who identifies as a male is purposely referred to as “she” or “her”. Similarly with females, it’s often regarded as an insult to infer that a female is “manly” and therefore different in a bad way by referring to her as “him” or “he.” The fact that these are insults or mocking highlights again how sensitive the subject of gender is to most people and how important it is to get it right. We advise employers to ask employees about the pronouns which they want used when referring to them.
Some employers are going a step further in recognizing that employees may feel unwanted attention on their gender identity if they are among a few who declare the pronouns they choose to be used about them. It’s a little bit like shining a spotlight on their gender identity when it shouldn’t be an issue at all. The solution turns out to be simple-employers shouldn’t limit the issue of pronoun selection and identification to only transgender workers, because doing so may not be as much about protecting their rights as it is about highlighting their “difference”. Employers should encourage everyone to self identify the pronouns that they are most comfortable having used about them and include these with their workplace identification as a matter of course. Rather than asking employees at hire about the pronouns with which they best identify and then having to announce that to the rest of the workforce, if everyone simply identifies the pronouns that best fit them, no one is set apart from others, creating a more inclusive work environment.
Lest you think that this is a bunch of hooey, know that several large law firms are leading the way in the legal industry by asking all of their employees to choose pronouns that others should use when referring to them and include them with their employee ID and email. So, their electronic identification would look like this:
Brenda Smith, H. R. Director
Some governmental agencies are following suit. Too, when everyone self identifies the proper pronouns to be used for themselves, it eliminates both well-intentioned guesswork about individuals with names that are as commonly used for females as they are for males, and any feigned innocence that a co-worker wasn’t being demeaning, they “just didn’t know.” Recognizing the need to respect all employees for how they identify themselves goes a long way to acknowledging that all workers are equal and in the end will reduce harassment by not singling people out.