THE NONBINARY PROFESSIONAL’S “PRONOUN ISSUE”
In professional profiles, the unstated rule is a 3:1 ratio between the person’s name and pronouns. That is, the text seems to flow most comfortably if you open with the person’s first name, then use pronouns the next two times, then repeat the person’s name, followed by two more pronouns.
As a workaround, the biography’s author opted to avoid pronouns entirely and simply repeated the lawyer’s first name at every personal reference ― seven consecutive times. To the average reader, failing to include personal pronouns feels suspicious, like someone’s hiding something. Further, it’s a missed opportunity to casually normalize the use of they pronouns and educate more members of the legal, business and marketing community.
Many marketers haven’t yet had the occasion to address these issues. So I’m going to try to lay out some basic principles as I understand them.
DRAFTING A NONBINARY PROFESSIONAL’S BIO CAN SEEM TRICKY
You must be careful not to inadvertently create any confusion for the reader regarding who or what the pronouns refer to. Consider this blurb: “Brittany is a lawyer who represents companies. They …” At that point, it may be briefly unclear to the reader whether “they” is referring to nonbinary Brittany or the companies. This means that the bio must be structured to avoid any accidental confusion. That’s just the careful editing that every professional’s profile deserves.
“You won’t have a good long-term relationship with those who don’t respect your most fundamental values.”
There’s a simple editing work-around. First, set the stage at the very beginning by including “(they/them)” at the top, alongside the person’s photo, name and contact info. In addition, introduce the person in the first sentence using the gender-neutral “Mx.” honorific (pronounced “mix”) if they’re amenable to it. It’s similar to “Mr.” for men or “Ms.” for women (e.g., “Mx. Smith is…”).
But that’s just the start — less educated readers may still not understand what that means. It can feel awkward or intimidating for people as they begin to get comfortable with “they” as a singular pronoun, so consider it an opportunity to positively influence your audience.
ADD SOME EDUCATION IN NONBINARY BIOS
Open by using the pronoun in a context where there is no chance of confusion over singular versus plural. For example: “Connor is a trial lawyer specializing in international arbitration; they have particular expertise in banking cases. (Note that I intentionally avoided using the plural “arbitration cases” here, which could have led to a momentary misunderstanding.)
This addresses the issue at the very top and informs the reader to be aware that any upcoming they, them or their might relate specifically to Connor, not exclusively to groups or plural nouns.
Further, it could have been helpful to provide some additional context. For example, Connor’s biography ends: “Connor maintains an active appellate and pro bono practice.” A quick look at their LinkedIn profile shows that most of these pro bono efforts are in support of LGBTQ groups and organizations. Specifically naming these groups would provide additional relevant information.
ALWAYS BE PROUD OF WHO YOU ARE
There’s not much downside to describing an individual thoroughly in his/her/their biography. Fishman Marketing has been branding individuals and law firms for 25 years. My strict rule is that both firms and individuals should clearly decide who they are and what they offer and then proclaim that attribute loudly and proudly.
If you do, those who are seeking that trait will be drawn to you, as a client or employee. Similarly, those who eschew it will avoid you. Frankly, you want them to ― you won’t have a good long-term relationship with those who don’t respect your most fundamental values.
Be clear about who you are and the benefits of what you offer, and like-minded people will be drawn to you. If you’re tough or creative or friendly; or a particular nationality, race, or gender; or a large or small firm, let everyone know. Those who don’t want that aren’t likely to be a successful relationship anyway. There’s plenty of work to go around — don’t try to be something you’re not. Just seek to attract those who value you.
These are conversations that need to be had, I sincerely applaud Connor and the firm for taking this positive step and helping create a more diverse and inclusive profession.