“My name is __. And my pronouns are __.”
If you aren’t starting your introductory meetings with that phrase, it may be time to consider doing so now, according to workplace inclusion experts.
As tech companies struggle with recruitment and retention, especially of underrepresented groups, one thing that continues to elude corporate leaders is how to create inclusive workplaces for people of all gender identities. One simple but effective way: setting a culture around disclosing pronouns at work.
About a quarter of Americans know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns like “they,” 8% more than in 2018, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey. When everyone shares their pronouns in a workplace, it normalizes the idea that a person’s gender identity shouldn’t be assumed and that they might not fit within the gender binary, according to Aubrey Blanche, Culture Amp’s global head of Equitable Design & Impact.
Blanche is a big fan of what she calls “tech-enabled disclosure,” which she feels is “subtle and simple but sets the tone for an organization.” Managers and company leaders can start by encouraging employees to change their settings on Slack, Zoom, LinkedIn and other commonly-used productivity tools to display their pronouns, for example. Employers with standard email signature templates can also make sure to include a section for pronouns.
When you’re “designing the workplace for the most marginalized, you end up raising all boats,” Blanche told Protocol. “At a very basic level, misgendering someone is an invalidation of someone’s humanity. To say, ‘I don’t see you,' is very powerful and negative to someone.”
For HR executives, there’s also the growing business case to consider. In the age of the Great Resignation, studies show that adopting more inclusive language is good for retention. According to a 2014 report from the Human Rights Coalition, 26% of LGBTQ+ employees surveyed stayed in a job because the environment was accepting. On the flip side, 9% left because their workplace wasn’t.
A Zoom feature allows users to disclose or not disclose their pronouns on all or certain calls. Image: Zoom
Experts agree that it helps the culture-setting even more when the message is coming from the top. If a CEO introduces themselves with their gender pronouns, that signals both internally and externally that their organization is safe for transgender and nonbinary employees, for example.
Pronoun disclosures should happen as early as the employee recruiting process, according to Chris Wood, executive director and co-founder of LGBT Tech. Keisha Williams, the director of the HRC’s Workplace Equality Program, recommends that recruiters and managers ask for and share pronouns as early as the job interview and onboarding process.
Companies that don’t make pronoun-sharing a part of their business practices are going to get left behind, said Williams, who helps run the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, a national benchmarking tool that tracks companies’ commitments to LGBTQ+ employees. The most recent index found that 56% of the 1,142 companies surveyed have gender transition guidelines with information around pronoun usage.
Workplace tools are also making it easier for companies to integrate pronoun disclosures into their day-to-day operations. Since LinkedIn released its pronoun disclosure feature on March 30, over 6 million users have already started adding pronouns to their profiles, according to Suzi Owens, the director of corporate communications for consumer products at LinkedIn. In interviews LinkedIn conducted with jobseekers, 70% felt it was important that recruiters and hiring managers knew their pronouns, and 72% of hiring managers agreed, believing that having pronouns visible shows respect.
Zoom’s feature, which launched in June, allows users to decide between always sharing their pronouns in every meeting or sharing them on a meeting-by-meeting basis, taking into account that some people might not want to share their pronouns in every circumstance. Williams also acknowledged that in different areas of the world, people might have different safety levels around pronoun disclosure.
If you refer to someone by the wrong pronouns, correct yourself and apologize, but don’t make your feelings the focus, Williams said. “No one is going to get it right 100% of the time, especially if gender pronoun usage is new,” she added.
At the end of the day, integrating pronoun disclosures into day-to-day business practices can “feel weird,” Blanche acknowledged. It may be uncomfortable at first, but “it’s OK to have discomfort. That’s a sign that you’re growing.”