As the debate around being politically correct continues to heat up, enei's Content Editor Heidi Schwartz ponders the purpose of proper pronouns.
The power of language
Inclusive language can help to create a more inclusive workplace. By doing something as effortless as sharing my pronouns in my e-mail signature, I try to help make it easier for someone who is gender non-conforming to feel comfortable sharing theirs if they so choose.
Basics about pronouns
Gender pronouns are words that a person uses to describe themselves or would like others to use to describe them. For cisgender people, she/her/hers or he/him/his are the common pronouns. (A cisgender person is someone whose gender identity corresponds to their sex as it was recorded at birth.) However, people who do not conform to the binary male/female categorisation for their sex might use they/them/theirs or other combinations.
Many of our initial workplace interactions take place in virtual settings (especially as more organisations have adopted hybrid or work from home policies). This is one of the reasons it can be presumptuous (and even disrespectful) to assume what a person’s pronouns are based on their name alone. That also holds true for face-to-face meetings when decisions about a person’s pronouns might be based on their physical appearance.
Why do some words make me cringe?
As someone with a reputation for being a grammar geek (or pedant, depending on how colleagues feel about the suggestions I make about their writing), I have a confession. I initially struggled to get used to the evolution of the mechanics of agreement (when pronouns no longer had to agree in gender and number with their antecedents). Over time, I came to appreciate that language was constantly changing to reflect the modern world. In fact, I learned how grammar could even be descriptive, rather than simply prescriptive.
I think back to the early 1970s when Gloria Steinem introduced Ms. magazine. As the feminist movement became part of a broader wave of social reform both in the United States and the United Kingdom, the term Ms slowly planted itself in the English lexicon.
I feel that sharing my pronouns in my e-mail signature is a proactive way to acknowledge the significance of accurate pronouns for others while showing consideration and respect. By the way (and while we’re at it), please don’t call me Mrs.
Yet, when I fast forward a half century later, it still feels like the term Ms is awkward for some people (or even worse, databases) to accept. I try to ignore (and almost automatically bin) the carelessly auto-generated correspondence addressed to Mrs Schwartz (that’s my mum). I must also fight back the overwhelming urge to scowl and abruptly correct someone (who either doesn’t know me, has made assumptions about my marital status, or has flat out disregarded my instructions) when they refer to me as Mrs instead of Ms. In 99.9% of these instances, there’s no justifiable reason to mention my marital status when communicating with me. Frankly, it puts me off when they take the liberty of predetermining it, especially if they’re trying to build a connection with me or hope to entice me as a customer. Just like that, an inaccurate label that’s merely a formality (or a misguided attempt to show respect) morphs into something that’s disrespectful and off putting.
This brings me back to the subject of sharing pronouns. I understand this could be considered odd for some people whose first instinct would be to dismiss pronouns as insignificant. But for others, accurate pronouns could be a very important part of their gender identity.
I will gladly push my grammar geekdom aside and refer to an individual person as they (the plural pronoun) without hesitation, if that’s what they’ve asked. For me, it’s the right thing to do.
This blog post was written by enei Content Editor Heidi Schwartz and posted on 27 April 2023. It was based on a post from a previous version of the enei website.
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Employer Guide: Inclusive Language
Quick Guide: Gender Identity
Quick Guide: Using Pronouns