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.
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.
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:
Modeling inclusive behavior
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:
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.
|she||her||hers||herself||She went to work. I worked with her. The project is hers.|
|he||him||his||himself||He went to work. I worked with him. The project is his.|
|they||them||theirs||themself||They went to work. I worked with them. The project is theirs.|
|ze||zir/hir||zirs/hirs||zirself/hirself||Ze 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.
|Gender||Often 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 identity||One’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.|
|Sex||Refers to biological status. Is typically assigned at birth usually on the basis of external anatomy. Typically categorized as male, female, or intersex.|
|Gender expression||How 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.|
|Cisgender||An adjective that describes a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned at birth.|
|Transgender||An adjective that describes a person whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth.|
|Nonbinary||A 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 orientation||Physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or other genders. Sexual orientations include gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, and asexual.|