How to Help Employees Learn About Pronoun Sharing

wall sign refering to pronoun sharing you have the right to be exactly who you are

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

You have probably noticed individuals who share their pronouns on their social media accounts. LinkedIn recently included the ability to add gender pronouns to your user account. But do you know why individuals do it? I’ll be honest, I wanted to learn more about this, so I listened to an online session from last year’s Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Inclusion conference.

Pronoun sharing is more than just a trend. Pronouns are attached to our identity, similar to our names or nicknames. For example, like it or not, we now have an image in our heads when people talk about “Karen”. And in my opinion, it’s not fair. We want others to use our name correctly and not give us a nickname that we don’t feel represents us. Pronouns are part of who we are, and it helps us and others when we share the pronoun that we would like for others to use when interacting with us.

During the SHRM online session, Amy Morrow and Kristy Lowther from RTI International talked about how they educated employees on gender pronouns. Founded in 1958, RTI International is a nonprofit organization located in North Carolina with approximately 5,000 employees and revenues of about $975 million.

Morrow and Lowther started their presentation by sharing an ally development spectrum that can help individuals and organizations identify not only where they are on the spectrum but use it as a guide for creating educational opportunities.

At the beginning of the spectrum, organizations will want to define what an ally is and why being an ally is important. I know for some people this might sound very basic, but I can’t help but think that sharing good information will help individuals become better allies. For example, RTI shared information about LGBTQ+ milestones, experiences, and current challenges.

The next thing Morrow and Lowther discussed was the importance of having senior leadership visibly support inclusion. This includes getting the organization to make inclusion part of the core values of the organization and dedicating resources to educate and support inclusion. For instance, part of this process for RTI was to create “all gender” restrooms.

Back to pronouns. Morrow and Lowther explained that once employees felt that they were becoming allies, they want to find ways to show their support. That was when they started sharing gender pronouns. RTI created a session for employees about the use of gender pronouns. The session had several activities and takeaways.

  • Understanding why sharing gender pronouns at work matters.
  • Creating opportunities for employees to practice sharing their pronouns in a safe environment, including asking others for their pronouns and answering any questions that people might have.
  • Sharing best practices like not asking for someone’s “preferred” pronoun. The reason being that a pronoun reflects someone’s identify, not their preference.
  • Being comfortable to share your pronouns while at the same time being okay if someone chooses not to share theirs.
  • Knowing what to do if and when you get it wrong – because that can and will happen (i.e. how to apologize).

Lastly, the session offered some suggestions for individuals to easily share their pronouns on social media profiles, video communications platforms (like Zoom), emails, and conference badges.

The practices that RTI shared aren’t exclusive to face-to-face communications. They stressed the importance of bringing in the organization’s marketing, public relations, and corporate communications teams to ensure that these practices were also apparent in written communications. HR departments will want to show inclusion in job postings, position descriptions, training materials, etc.

One other topic that RTI mentioned in their session that I thought was so important was about bias. We must realize that recognizing and working through our biases is a part of this change process. We might make gender assumptions based on a person’s name or the way they communicate. Pronoun sharing might sound really easy to do, but it’s not. That doesn’t mean that individuals aren’t and don’t want to be supportive. But it takes self-awareness and work.

P.S. If you’re looking for some resources about gender pronouns, check out the International Pronouns Day website. Oh, and mark your calendar – the next International Pronoun Day is October 20, 2021.

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