He/Him, She/Her, They/Them: Why Pronouns Matter
It’s becoming increasingly common for individuals to state their pronouns. It’s cropping up in everything from LinkedIn profiles to email signatures as just one simple way to illustrate inclusivity. There’s also another place this should be appearing — in your recruitment efforts.
Using a person’s personal pronouns demonstrates respect and affirmation. It’s the most straightforward approach to acknowledging someone’s identity, and it provides a sense of being noticed and accepted. And what better way to alert applicants that you care about being inclusive than before they even send in the application?
Some firm employees might not necessarily understand why pronoun designations are important or believe that they don’t “need” to declare it in a signature block. And if they don’t personally need to, then why bother?
The answer to that, quite simply, is that it’s supportive. This is a remarkably simple move — indeed, a very small action — but it’s one that goes a long way for setting the tone of inclusivity in legal organizations. It can be incredibly isolating to be the “only” person who needs or wants to self-identify pronouns. Having others declare their pronouns empowers others to feel comfortable being themselves.
Here’s why: As humans we use words as one of our primary methods of communication, and those words have extreme power that can build us up — or tear us down. We use words to describe everything we do and everything around us. The most personal words we use to refer to each other are our names and our pronouns. They allow us to share and communicate our sense of self and identity with others. It’s part of our everyday lives.
USING GENDER-NEUTRAL PRONOUNS
Using the wrong pronouns, whether on purpose or not, can be distracting, upsetting and even enraging. Some people may interpret this as being told they don’t matter or deserve respect. It’s basically like deleting someone’s personal identity and replacing it with your own. It’s no small thing: When a person’s identity is invalidated, it affects how they move through society and connect with others.
If you use the wrong pronouns, apologize and make a correction. If you are not aware of the mistake and the individual corrects you, express gratitude for pointing it out and do better with future interactions. Remember we all learn differently, so figure out what works best for you so that you can make sure to be use the proper pronouns in future conversations.
“It can be incredibly isolating to be the ‘only’ person who needs or wants to self-identify pronouns. Having others declare their pronouns empowers others to feel comfortable being themselves.”
If a pronoun isn’t specified or isn’t known, gender-neutral pronouns (like “they” or “them”) are a good alternative. Keep in mind that when someone gives you a pronoun, it’s the one they want you to use at that moment. Also, people may alter their names or pronouns or go by various names in different parts of their lives. So if someone tells you their personal pronouns have changed, be considerate of their request.
ADAPTING YOUR FIRM
Workplaces must adapt to these realities. More and more people are identifying as something other than their assigned sex at birth. This is particularly evident in the younger generations entering the workforce.
Employers and employees have more opportunities and possibilities today than ever before to interact with a broader spectrum of gender identities and expressions. Organizations must be aware of the importance of pronouns and explore appropriate solutions to be a workplace that supports diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.
Here are some simple ways to make pronouns a part of your organization’s culture:
- Include it in your recruiting process. You’ll let job seekers know right away that you care about how your employees identify.
- Create a place to declare pronouns in the interview process and in the onboarding process, and then use those pronouns when introducing new candidates/employees.
- Allow employees to self-ID their preferred names and pronouns as part of their employee profile (intranet, website, e-directory).
- Share your personal pronouns with others. Whether it’s one-on-one or in a group setting, this act can inspire others to do the same and make them feel more comfortable sharing their pronouns with you.
- Encourage all employees, regardless of gender identity, to use personal pronouns in their email signatures, name tags, introductions, meetings, etc.
- Update you firm’s communication style and time entry (billing) procedures if you continue to address individuals by Mr. and Ms. — or worse yet, making a guess on preferred pronouns and salutations during that communication.
It’s also extremely helpful to have people in leadership positions model this behavior because it lets others know they are an ally and support creating a comfortable environment for the people around them.
There may be individuals who do not understand, don’t feel comfortable sharing or are unable to participate in a courteous manner — that’s OK. For those individuals, simply share a name.
MAKE INCLUSIVITY THE NORM
Pronouns are crucial. It’s critical that we utilize appropriate language. Using the appropriate personal pronouns and creating an environment in which people feel they can be their authentic selves can revolutionize your organization.
Always remind yourself that everyone in your organization deserves to have their self-ascribed name and pronouns honored. It’s an important and necessary step for organizations to adopt practices that respect people’s gender identities. This one change makes society a more welcoming place for people of all genders.
It’s such a small and easy thing that we can all do to be more inclusive and welcoming, and it can make a huge impact on people feeling marginalized or unseen.
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