Apr 28, 2022 Culture

DEI Digest: Let’s talk about pronouns and why they matter

By Courtney Renick-Mayer

Increasing representation of underrepresented talent and creating a space for all employees to thrive continues to be an industry challenge. As we strive to build more diverse, equitable, and inclusive communities within our company, industry, and cities, we are committed to sharing best practices, learnings, and insights through this ongoing series created by our DEI team. 

In the U.S., our understanding of gender has evolved significantly in the last 10 years, particularly around the experiences of transgender and nonbinary people. As our collective awareness grows, it’s also critically important that we’re mindful and intentional about our language and word choices. Using the correct pronouns is one seemingly small but incredibly impactful way to show respect for our genderqueer and nonconforming colleagues. 

Why pronouns matter

Just like our names, pronouns are part of our identity and carry significant meaning. It’s easy for people to make assumptions about someone based on their appearance and infer their pronouns based on traditional and antiquated perceptions. These assumptions may invalidate who someone is and send the incorrect message that there is only one way gender can appear or be expressed. Assuming someone’s pronouns or using the incorrect pronouns can be offensive, harmful, and exclusionary. However, being mindful about pronouns is an opportunity to check our assumptions, build inclusion, and signal to others that you see, acknowledge, and respect them. It shows that you accept them in a way that is consistent and true to who they are. It also helps ensure we have the most accurate information about another person and refer to them appropriately. 

Inclusive practices

The more cisgender people in particular regularly share pronouns, the less likely genderqueer, transgender, and nonbinary people are to feel pressured or outed. Here are a few simple things we can all do to create a safer environment:


  • It may take time to get someone’s pronouns right. You might say the wrong thing and feel uncomfortable, but that’s okay. It’s all about how you recover (see what to do when you’ve made a mistake below). Do your best and keep trying.
  • Be open to learning and expect change. Language changes over time, as may someone’s pronouns. Don’t be surprised if things pivot and evolve, so remain curious and receptive.  
  • Don’t use the phrase “preferred pronouns,” just say “pronouns.” It gives the impression that pronouns other than the ones offered are okay to use, but that is not the case. Learn more here.

Getting started

  • Create and normalize a space for everyone to share their pronouns by sharing your own pronouns first. Try something like, “Hi, my name is Courtney and my pronouns are she, her, hers.”
  • If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, the best way to ask is to be direct in the beginning of the conversation by stating your own pronouns first and then saying something like:
  • “My pronouns are she, her, and hers. What about you?”
  • “What pronouns do you use?”
  • “What pronouns would you like for me to use?”
  • If someone uses the pronouns she/they or he/they, it means they use both. You can alternate between both when referring to them. 

Modeling inclusive behavior

  • Incorporate pronouns in everyday use by including them in Slack, email, and when introducing yourself in meetings. 
  • If you hear the wrong pronouns being used for a colleague who is not in the room, model the right behavior by saying something like “Just a friendly reminder that this person uses they/them pronouns.” 
  • Use gender neutral communication in team and group communications 

Respecting boundaries

  • If people do not want to share their pronouns, respect it and don’t push them. You don’t have the right to their pronouns if they are not comfortable sharing. 
  • If there is not an opportunity for introductions or someone does not wish to share their pronouns, use the person’s name or they/them.
  • Remember that in a group setting, cisgender members should also share their pronouns. Avoid putting any one individual on the spot. 

What to do when you’ve made a mistake

We all make mistakes and that’s okay. It’s all about how you react and recover. When you misgender someone or use the wrong pronouns, apologize, move on, and try harder next time. Keep your apology brief and don’t make it about you. Here are some reactions to consider:


  • Say “I’m sorry” (no need to say it more than once or make it a big deal. When you overly apologize, you immediately make it about you again)
  • Say “I shouldn’t have assumed.”
  • Say “thank you for telling me.”
  • Respond with a thank you and a correction — “Thank you – I’ll make sure to loop [correct name/pronoun] into the conversation].” (correcting yourself in real time is a great way to practice and model inclusive behavior)


  • Get defensive. This is how a mistake gets bigger.
  • Make it about you. Don’t put the responsibility on the other person to make you feel better.
  • Ask why or for more explanation
  • Say, “can you ever forgive me?”
  • Dismiss or continue using the wrong pronouns

Pronouns 101 and other important gender identity terms

Pronouns are the words we commonly use in place of people’s names when referring to individuals. Whether we realize it or not, we use pronouns every day. Pronouns can be both gendered (e.g. he/him/his) or non-gendered or nonbinary (e.g. they/them/their) and not gender specific. Someone’s gender expression and outward appearance may not indicate anything about their gender identity or the pronouns they use (see gender identity definitions below).  Pronouns are also fluid and may change, and some people don’t use pronouns or may prefer to just be called by their name.  Below is a list of commonly used pronouns.

sheherhersherselfShe went to work. I worked with her. The project is hers. 
hehimhishimselfHe went to work. I worked with him. The project is his. 
theythemtheirsthemselfThey went to work. I worked with them. The project is theirs. 
zezir/hirzirs/hirszirself/hirselfZe went to work. I worked with zir. The project is zirs. 

They/them/theirs is used as a plural pronoun as well as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. Ze/zir/zirs is another gender-neutral pronoun set. Ze is pronounced like the letter Z and zir rhymes with “here.” 

Familiarize yourself with other common gender identity terms so you can better understand the role pronouns play a role in who we are and how we show up. 

GenderOften defined as a social construct of norms, behaviors, and roles that varies between societies and over time. Often categorized as male, female, or nonbinary.
Gender identityOne’s own internal sense of self and their gender. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is not outwardly visible to others. Gender identity may or may not align with sex assigned at birth.
SexRefers to biological status. Is typically assigned at birth usually on the basis of external anatomy. Typically categorized as male, female, or intersex.
Gender expressionHow a person presents gender outwardly, through behavior, clothing, or other perceived characteristics. Society categorizes these cues as masculine or feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture.
CisgenderAn adjective that describes a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned at birth.
TransgenderAn adjective that describes a person whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth.
NonbinaryA term that can be used by people who do not describe themselves or their genders as fitting into the categories of man or woman.
Sexual orientationPhysical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or other genders. Sexual orientations include gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, and asexual.

Click here to see previous issues of our DEI Digest and learn more about how we’re making DoorDash a space where everyone can find belonging here.