When creating inclusive workplaces for LGBTQ+ individuals, it’s important to pay specific attention to gender and pronoun use in the workplace.

Many organizations have come to understand the experiences LGBTQ+ individuals face in the workplace and have created specific policies to be more inclusive. Some of these include; healthcare coverage for same-sex spouses, protocols and medical coverage for gender transition, and paid parental leave for same-sex couples as well as adoptive parents. Although creating workplace policies is a great first step, it’s important for these policies to be enacted appropriately by managers as well as employees to create a safe and inclusive workplace for transgender individuals. So, let’s talk specifically about gender and pronouns in the workplace.

Facts About Gender at Work

Approximately 90% of transgender workers have experienced harassment or mistreatment at work. And forty-seven percent of workers have experienced an adverse job outcome because they are transgender. This includes:

    • Forty-four percent were passed over for a job.
    • Twenty-three percent were denied a promotion.
    • And 26 percent were fired because they were transgender.

Gender and Pronouns in the Workplace – Creating a Safe Workplace for Transgender Folks

So, what can companies and colleagues do to create a safe work environment for transgender individuals?

1) Start by educating ourselves about the use of pronouns.

In school, we’re taught about the use of pronouns in a binary manner: he/she for individuals, and they/them for plural. But this language needs to be updated to include the use of they/them pronouns. They/them pronouns are used for individuals who identify as non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid or whoever chooses to use them.

2) Do not make assumptions about what pronouns a person uses.

Just because someone presents a particular way does not mean they use the pronouns we assume they do. It can be helpful to practice using they/them pronouns and defaulting to using they until you find out what pronouns a person uses.

3) If you’re unsure of someone’s pronouns, ask.

Try one of these options: “Hey, what are your pronouns?”, “What pronouns do you use?”, “I was just wondering how you’d like me to address you.”, “I just want to make sure I’m using the correct language to refer to you.”

    • Note: Avoid language around preference, pronouns are not a preference they’re a requirement.
    • Also note: Only asking people who appear to be transgender can in itself be problematic so get in the habit of asking everyone.

4) Start with yourself.

An even easier way to start a conversation about pronouns is to start with yourself, especially if you are cisgender. Cisgender is a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth, i.e. assigned male at birth and continue to identify as male and use he/him pronouns, or vice versa. If you need/want to learn more about general LGBTQ+ terminology, check out our other article here.

Do this by introducing yourself with your name and pronouns, then give the other person the opportunity to do so as well. For example, I would say, “Hi, I’m Dr. Joti Samra, I use she/her pronouns.”

  • Doing this in a group setting where everyone states their name and pronouns, regardless of gender identity, can help to make the experience less tokenizing for trans people. In the workplace, this can be done with ice breaker activities that include everyone introducing themselves with their pronouns as well as their name.
  • It’s a good approach to give pronouns first, so it’s not required for others to ask or make the wrong assumptions. In the workplace, pronouns can be added to profiles and other public spaces – for example in email signatures, in profiles such as slack or other company communication programs, on name tags during events, etc.

5) Names are incredibly important.

Not every trans person has legally changed their name. So it’s important they’re able to use their chosen name at work and that name is respected. Not only should this name be used by their managers and colleagues, but they should be able to use this name in documentation like work emails and business cards.

6) Be aware of gendered language.

Pronouns aren’t the only important aspects of gendered language. Some examples of regularly used gendered language include “Good Morning, ladies!” or “you guys”. Even using phrases we may think are more inclusive like “ladies and gentlemen” can be problematic. It’s important to be conscious of language and the assumptions we are making based on that language. Often the language we think is inclusive isn’t due to the fact that it doesn’t include anyone who falls outside of the binary.

Here are some examples of more gender-inclusive language:

  • Instead of “you guys,” try “you all,” “y’all,” “folks,” “friends,” “everyone,” “people”.
  • Instead of “dude,” “man,” and “bro,” well, how about just ditch those, no replacement necessary?
  • Rather than “ladies and gentlemen,” try “everyone,” “folks,” or nothing at all.
  • Instead of “men and women,” try “people,” “employees,” or “workers”.
  • Rather than “sir” and “ma’am,” try nothing at all.

Other Important Things to Note About Gender in the Workplace

Gender and pronoun use in the workplace is an important part of creating a safe and inclusive environment. Here are some things that may come up as you learn about gender identity and appropriate pronoun use so you can avoid some simple mistakes.

  1. Trans people aren’t required to disclose information about their identities. And even more importantly, they’re not required to do the labour of educating us on the shortcomings of our understanding of gender. Depending on our relationship with them, it can feel tokenizing and exhausting to trans people to constantly have to answer questions about their gender identity. Also, the workplace, in most cases, is likely not an appropriate place to be asking these questions. Remember it’s important to educate ourselves first.
  2. Don’t ask them to speak on behalf of the entire community. Every voice in the trans community represents an entirely different experience from the next.
  3. If we find ourselves misgendering someone, never make it about you.
    • It’s OK to make mistakes. But make sure to immediately recognize and acknowledge you used the wrong pronouns and correct it. Otherwise, other people involved in that conversation might think they can also use the wrong pronouns for that person.
    • Don’t get upset with ourselves or overly apologetic. The most respectful thing we can do in that situation is to acknowledge our mistake, fix it and carry on.
    • If we see someone else misgender a person, don’t stand idly by. Politely correct them and move on.
  4. Never argue with someone about the grammatical use of the singular they pronoun. They is grammatically correct and we are required to learn how to use it appropriately.

For more information about using pronouns correctly, particularly the appropriate use of they/them pronouns read our other article on How to Use Pronouns Correctly.

Final Thoughts

Learning to be more gender-inclusive can feel daunting because it seems as though there is so much to learn. And for many of us, the learning process must begin with unlearning our ideas about gender and the gender binary. But gender and pronouns in the workplace is an important part of creating a safe and inclusive work environment for all workers. So, it’s important to educate ourselves and our teams as well as continue to practice with inclusive language.

If you’re still struggling with gender and pronouns in the workplace, whether with your own education, educating you workers or with specific workplace policies consider a consultation with MyWorkplaceHealth.