Embracing and respecting all forms of identity is important to creating inclusive environments.
Discrimination and harassment related to gender identity can only be reduced when organizations promote gender neutral language that combats negative stereotypes.
Whether it’s at work or daily life, gender neutral pronouns are key to creating an inclusive environment.
In this post, I’ll look at how HR departments should use gender neutral pronouns to create an environment of respect (although I recommend everyone read this post!).
Click to jump ahead:
- What are gender neutral pronouns?
- 3 reasons gender neutral pronouns matter
- Gender neutral pronouns examples
- How to use gender neutral pronouns
- 4 gender neutral pronouns tips
- Frequently asked questions
What are gender neutral pronouns?
Gender neutral pronouns refer to personal pronouns not associated with any specific gender. This means using the third person in a way that is inclusive of different gender identities in professional settings and private environments.
The English language uses gender-specific pronouns or traditional pronouns like “he” and “she” which define gender presentation as male or female.
This leaves little options for transgender people, nonbinary people, and other gender identities or gender nonconforming people.
Only gender neutral pronouns offer alternatives to people who identify as non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, or any gender other than exclusively male or female.
Using the wrong gender pronoun or incorrect pronouns can be unintentionally hurtful, is disrespectful and is not gender inclusive.
Gender neutral language is constantly evolving, but here is a list of common gender neutral pronouns:
- They/Them – This is the most widely recognized and used gender neutral pronoun. They/them is used by non-binary individuals and they can be used both in the singular and plural form.
- Ze/Hir – These pronouns are used by some non-binary individuals. Ze is used in place of he/she, and hir can replace his/her.
- E/Em – Some people use E in place of he/she and Em in place of him/her.
- Xe/Xem – Xe and Xem are used in place of he/she and him/her.
- Per/Pers – Per is used in place of he/she/him/her and Pers can replace his/hers/him/her.
- Ve/Ver – Ve is used in place of he/she and Ver can replace his/hers/him/her.
- Thon/Thons – Thon is used in place of he/she and Thons can replace his/hers/him/her.
- Ey/Em – Ey is used in place of he/she and Em can replace his/hers/him/her.
- Co/Com/Comself – These pronouns are used by some individuals in place of he/she, him/her, and himself/herself.
- Zie/Zir – Zie is used in place of he/she and Zir can replace his/her.
Note: The list above does not cover every gender neutral pronoun.
What about she/her and he/him?
She/her and he/him are not exactly gender neutral, but they are integral to creating an inclusive environment.
- She/her – She is used to refer to someone who identifies as female or uses female pronouns.
- He/him – He is used to refer to someone who identifies as male or uses male pronouns, and “him” is the objective form of “he” (e.g., “I saw him”).
3 reasons why gender neutral pronouns matter
Gender neutral pronouns matter because they allow us to refer to people in a way that is respectful of their gender identity.
When we use the correct pronouns, it shows that we see them and respect them for who they are.
Foster respect and inclusiveness
Using gender neutral pronouns is a way to show respect to individuals who don’t identify within traditional genders. These alternative pronouns acknowledge and affirm their gender identity.
Promote mental and emotional well-being
Being addressed with the correct pronouns is essential for the mental and emotional well-being of individuals. Misgendering can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.
Validate gender identities
Gender neutral pronouns validate non-binary, genderqueer, and genderfluid individuals. It helps them feel seen and recognized for who they are.
Gender neutral pronouns examples
To foster better understanding and promote the use of gender neutral language, let’s explore some gender neutral pronoun examples.
- “Alex is an excellent programmer. They recently completed a challenging project.”
- “The new team member uses they/them pronouns. Please remember to address them accordingly.”
- “When you meet the project manager, ask them about the upcoming deadlines.”
- “Ze is a talented artist. Hir paintings are truly unique.”
- “I’m meeting a friend later, and Ze promised to bring Hir camera.”
- “I’ll introduce you to Alex. Ze is very knowledgeable, and you should talk to Hir.”
- “E is working on a presentation. Em slides always impress us.”
- “I spoke to my colleague, and E shared some interesting insights.”
- “If you need help with this, please consult E.”
- “Xe is an excellent programmer. Xem recently completed a challenging project.”
- “The team leader, Mark, has a lot of experience, so I often ask Xem for advice.”
- “The marketing team just got a new member, Alex. I think Xe’ll bring fresh ideas.”
- “Per is the team lead. Pers management skills are exceptional.”
- “I attended a workshop led by Chris, and I was impressed by Pers expertise.”
- “Pat is the team captain, and I believe Pers leadership will inspire everyone.”
- “Ve is the creative mind behind our designs. Ver vision always stands out.”
- “I’ve worked closely with Jordan, and I’m continually amazed by Ver dedication.”
- “If you have any questions about the project, reach out to Kim. Ve can guide you.”
- “Thon is a fantastic writer. Thons articles are always engaging.”
- “I had a conversation with Taylor about the project, and I value Thons insights.”
- “If you’re unsure about the task, don’t hesitate to ask Jamie. Thon can provide guidance.”
- “Ey is a skilled musician. I enjoy listening to Em play the guitar.”
- “Chris is a valuable team member. I appreciate Ey’s hard work.”
- “If you need assistance, reach out to Terry. Ey is always willing to help.”
- “Alex identifies as non-binary. I spoke with Co earlier, and Co had some great ideas.”
- “Jordan uses Co/Cos/Coself pronouns. I always make an effort to address Com accordingly.”
- “I attended a seminar with Pat and learned more about Co/Cos/Coself identity.”
- “Zie is an experienced engineer. I’ve known Zir for years, and Zir expertise is unmatched.”
- “I spoke to Morgan about the project, and I was impressed by Zir approach.”
- “If you have any doubts, please consult Cameron. Zie can provide valuable insights.”
How to figure out and use gender neutral pronouns
Whether it’s verbal or written communication, getting pronouns right is really important
But how do you figure out someone’s pronouns?
When trying to figure out pronouns, the best approach is to be respectful and gentle.
Here’s how you can go about it:
- When meeting someone new whose pronouns you’re not sure about, politely ask: “What pronouns do you use?” This shows that you value their identity and respect their choices.
- Make asking about pronouns a regular part of introductions and interactions. This ensures you’re using the right pronouns for everyone.
- Allow individuals to share their pronouns openly, without pressure. Avoid assuming someone’s pronouns based on appearance, as it may not reflect their gender identity.
Tip: Do not use terms like “preferred” as this implies that gender identity is a choice rather than an inherent part of who someone is.
If you’re uncertain as to which pronouns someone uses but cannot inquire directly, consider consulting mutual friends or acquaintances instead of making assumptions.
Once you know someone’s pronouns, here’s what you need to do:
To show that you truly honor and acknowledge someone’s identity, it’s crucial to:
- Always use the name and pronouns that someone shares with you. This is an essential element of respecting someone’s identity and gender expression.
- Remember that an individual’s pronouns may be deeply personal. Always keep this information confidential and use it respectfully.
Using gender neutral pronouns may require some adjustment and practice, especially if it’s new for you.
It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you’re willing to improve.
- If you make a mistake with someone’s pronouns, a sincere apology is important. For instance, “I apologize for using the wrong pronouns earlier. Let me correct that.” Then, proceed to use the correct pronouns.
- Encourage a workplace culture where colleagues support each other in using the right pronouns. Practice and repetition together help create an inclusive environment for everyone.
4 gender neutral pronoun tips for HR
Use technology to highlight pronouns
Technology can be a valuable ally in promoting the use of gender neutral pronouns.
Many apps and platforms, like Slack provide features that allow users to display their preferred pronouns prominently.
For example, in Slack users can customize their profiles to include their pronouns such as they/them.
When someone hovers over a name in a Slack conversation, pronouns will be prominently displayed to help colleagues address people with the correct pronouns.
Use pronouns in meetings
At the beginning of meetings, consider implementing a quick round of introductions that includes each participant sharing their pronouns.
This practice is a simple yet powerful way to ensure that everyone in the meeting is addressed respectfully and accurately.
It also encourages a culture of pronoun sharing and fosters an inclusive atmosphere where individuals feel valued and acknowledged for their gender identity.
Incorporate pronouns in communications
Incorporating pronouns into communication is an excellent way to normalize and encourage pronoun sharing in work-related settings.
Consider adding pronouns to email signatures and LinkedIn profiles.
This step not only demonstrates your support for inclusivity but also serves as a helpful reminder for others to consider doing the same.
By including pronouns in these spaces, you help create a workplace culture where gender diversity is acknowledged and respected.
Encourage pronoun awareness
Physical events, conferences, and meetings present unique opportunities for promoting pronoun awareness.
Utilizing name tags or badges that include a designated space for attendees’ pronouns can create a more respectful and inclusive environment.
When individuals wear these tags, it signals to others that they are open to sharing their pronouns and recognizing gender diversity within the group.
This can significantly contribute to a more inclusive atmosphere at events and gatherings and foster a sense of belonging for all participants.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the 7 gender pronouns?
The personal gender pronouns (PGPs) include she/he, her/him and their(s), but also singularly gender neutral terms like them or they.
What is a non-binary gender-neutral pronoun?
A non-binary gender-neutral pronoun is a pronoun used to refer to someone who identifies as non-binary. Non-binary is a gender identity that falls outside the traditional categories of “male” and “female.” Non-binary individuals may identify as a mix of both genders, neither gender, or a different gender entirely. It’s important to use gender neutral pronouns like they, he/she, and others when expressing a non-binary identity in order to show respect.
How do you address a non-binary person formally?
For formal interactions with a non-binary individual, it is important to find out their preferred title. The most widely accepted gender neutral honorific for addressing someone is “Mx.,” usually spoken as “miks.” Nonetheless, there may be other titles the person might prefer or no title at all.
How can I politely ask for someone’s pronouns?
To politely ask for someone’s pronouns, ask in a private setting with a friendly question like: “Hey, were those ze/hir pronouns you used just then?” to politely ask for someone’s pronouns.
How can I let people know my pronouns?
Share with your closest circle that you use pronouns to refer to yourself and then explain the meaning of this to them in an easy, straightforward way.
In summary: Creating a better and more inclusive world requires organizations to lead from the front
For companies, creating an environment where people feel welcome and accepted regardless of their identity is key to success.
And using inclusive language and gender neutral pronouns is part of this formula.
It isn’t difficult. It just requires the right attitude, approach, and a willingness to provide employees the right tools.