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Building an Inclusive Culture Using Gender Pronouns

July 14, 2022

Inspirus supports the inclusion and belonging of LGBTQ+ persons, so that each employee feels safe to bring their whole self to work. Sodexo, Inspirus’ parent company, has over 18 LGBTQ+ and Ally employee networks around the world and multiple regional taskforces. These networks champion an environment of acceptance and workplace equality through employee engagement, community involvement, education and awareness.

Inspirus encourages our employees to use gender identity and inclusive pronouns to improve the employee experience, promote human rights and gain a better understanding of individual differences and preferences. We don’t do this because it is the popular thing to do although research shows “they” internet searches have increased by 313% since 2019 we do this because we recognize the need for more inclusivity in the language we use, and we recognize the need to create inclusive environments so we can fully connect with our co-workers.

Much like our individual names, the pronouns we identify with are tied to our sense of identity. They create an emotional connection, reflective of who we are and how the outside world should recognize and address us. Each individual has personal pronouns that describe themselves: ‘He/Him’ and ‘She/Her’ are the most commonly used pronouns, ‘They/Them’ is the most commonly pronoun used by individuals who identify as nonbinary or gender neutral. In addition, many transgender/GNC individuals choose a different name to go by, other than the name given to them at birth, and may change their pronouns (a chosen name may be different than the name indicated on official records).

Evolving to adapt to the times

Here are some interesting stats that may influence your organization when deciding how to use pronouns:

  • Nearly 50% of Americans now see gender on a spectrum and feel comfortable using gender-inclusive pronouns.
  • 1/3 of adults ages 18-29 know someone who uses gender-inclusive pronouns.
  • Employees seek gender-inclusive practices within their organization, with younger generations actively seeking employment at companies that share their own values of inclusion and connected cultures of belonging.
  • Pew Research demonstrates that 59% of Gen Zers believe that forms and/or online profiles should include gender options other than ‘man’ or ‘woman.’

In the workplace, a Harris Poll survey commission by Out & Equal and Witeck Communications found that 74% of respondents believe that employers should learn and use employees’ pronouns and chosen name in the workplace. 64% of respondents agree that employers should intervene when an employee regularly misuses a co-worker’s pronouns or chosen name. Further, 58% believe that regular pronoun misuse is a form of workplace harassment.

How to use pronouns inclusively

Using inclusive pronouns fosters a culture of respect and belonging not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but for anyone who challenges the traditional model of gender identity and expression. And while most people are well-intentioned, making the wrong assumption about someone’s gender, and, by extension their pronouns, can be insulting and harmful.

Here is a gender-inclusive pronoun chart:Pronouns Chart

Here are a few tips to help you use gender pronouns:

  • Introduce yourself using pronouns: “I’m Sylena, my pronouns are She/Her/Hers, it’s nice to meet you!”
  • Avoid assumptions and seek to better understand unknown individuals
  • When speaking collectively, use gender-inclusive terms such as “team”, “folks” or “ya’ll”
  • If you are unsure of a person’s gender pronoun, the singular ‘they’ is unassuming, all-inclusive, and can be used to refer to anyone, or default to using their name

Workplace inclusivity

Using gender pronouns is vital to drive employee engagement and for increased global cultural competency, especially when interacting with employees or clients in different countries, or employees who are non-native speakers and unfamiliar with traditionally gendered names. Remember: not all names are gender-specific, and how someone looks may not indicate their gender identity. For example, a non-binary individual may not be female identified but may use “she” pronouns. Using pronouns signals you will respect and express dignity towards one another.

Leaders and managers can create an inclusive workplace culture by building out foundational practices around introducing and referencing pronouns. For instance, adding pronouns to work email signatures send a message that the company is inclusive and acknowledges gender diversity. Encouraging the creation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that support LGBTQ+ workers increases their sense of belonging. Highlighting your diversity and inclusion initiatives in your employee engagement platform — like the Spotlight area within Inspirus® Connects — distributes information to everyone, equally. Out & Equal has a has developed a list of tools and best practices to help many employers create more equitable workplace environments where everyone can be both “out” and “equal” at work. However, mandating use of pronouns could cause pressure for someone to reveal their gender identity before they are ready to do so with colleagues, so it’s best to keep it voluntary.

Inclusive leaders are authentic leaders who are committed to creating awareness and understanding for themselves and their teams. At Inspirus, inclusion isn’t a movement, it’s how we operate.

Topics: employee engagement, employee experience, diversity, culture, inclusion