As a clinic in London reported earlier this summer, the number of people who identify as non-binary (where a person doesn’t feel the need/want to assign to a particular gender) is increasing. Between 2018 and 2019 The Tavistock Centre (a London health trust) reported 2,500 individuals identifying as non-binary. For one centre alone to report numbers in the thousands in a 12-month period points to a growing need for awareness and sensitivity around the discussion.
The topic of pronouns can be daunting for anyone who has little-to-no knowledge about alternative pronouns and differing genders. It is important to understand that gender and sex are also two very different concepts. A person’s sex is their biological system. A person’s gender is more focused on how they present themselves to the world – appearance, style, and, most importantly, how they feel.
As workplaces aim to become more inclusive spaces and the societal shift towards diversity becomes more transparent, it is important to consider how these exchanges can (and must) be transferred to the work environment. To do so, some organisations have introduced policies that encourage people to include their preferred pronouns in email signatures as a way to normalise the terms for wider communities. In a bid to delve into the topic, we spoke to two organisations on their thoughts towards the use of pronouns at work.
First, I spoke to a member of a students’ union, which has fully implemented the use of pronouns in email signatures and company collateral. The employee commented: “The policy was pushed by a student officer at the time, and was supported by our governing body. While the majority of people you might encounter day to day will present as cisgender (the gender you were born as), you have to remember that for those who maybe don’t assign the same way, it can be an incredibly daunting prospect to tackle in life.
“By introducing a company policy to state your preferred pronouns, even as a cisgender person, this helps to normalise and colloquialise the conversation around differing pronouns. A person who wants to be referred to as ‘they’ (for non-binary) has every right to do so, the same way that I can as ‘she’. It just helps open up that conversation for everyone.”
Colin Kimber of ParetoFM shared similar thoughts: “It’s important to discuss pronouns at work because it’s about normalisation. While most people do feel they are in the right body and gender (and consequently might not feel the need to discuss their pronouns), we need to open ourselves up to the fact that others may not. The only way forward is for everyone to get on board and help form an inclusive environment.”
For Colin, it’s all about engagement. “Gay marriage only got passed because everybody wanted it to happen,” he explains. “Gay people could have found ways around it in the world, but because other people outside of the gay community got behind it, collectively – we made it happen. It’s the same here, if everybody gets behind the premise of openly discussing the use of alternate pronouns, it will become the norm to anyone.
“There is a real difference between ignorance to a situation or being out-right against a person and their identity. Make it your mission to be supportive, or at least open-minded, to these situations – and approach it with sensitivity,” adds Colin.
Regardless of your personal stance, reading and thinking about this topic broadens your horizons on the use of pronouns. Alternative pronouns will only be normalised if people begin to use them in everyday, colloquial language. In work or out of work, if you understand and agree with the conversation or not, simply show sincerity and kindness towards your peers.