Do pronouns matter?
By Sharon Peake, Shape Talent Founder & CEO
You will have noticed the increased use of pronouns across email signatures, bios and social media profiles lately. A person’s pronouns are how they are referred to; he/him, she/her, they/them. Explicitly displaying our pronouns is a relatively new addition to an introduction. Adding pronouns, or not, is a personal choice. Whether we chose to use them or not the decision must be respected either way as this is often impacted by deeper drivers which are rooted in our beliefs and social ecosystems.
At Shape Talent we are pro-pronouns. However, we also acknowledge the importance of an individual’s right to choose whether to use pronouns, ensuring that we accommodate a safe space for all identities. Here are some benefits of using pronouns:
- Highlighting the difference between sex and gender
Historically, a person’s gender would be assumed based on their sex. The two are very different; a person’s sex is the physiological difference of male, female, intersex. Gender on the other hand is a social construct; societal expectations and norms of gender traditionally derive from sex. Gender therefore can be more fluid and as it is an expression of identity. Gender can and should therefore be a personal choice rather than a label that is assumed or chosen for them. Gender is not binary; it is a spectrum entailing a range of expressions of identity beyond man and woman. Some may identify with a gender different to the one assigned at birth and some may not identify with any gender. The use of pronouns is a way to open up a conversation and raise awareness and understanding of the distinction between gender and sex.
- Encouraging and empowering choice of identity
Oftentimes, the pronouns we are given by others is an assumption of our gender by the person referring to us and this is usually linked to our sex at birth. The use of pronouns rightfully reminds others that the decision of how we are referred to is our own and promotes and empowers others to do the same. By sharing our own pronouns, we encourage others to be open and comfortable in expressing theirs.
- Demonstrating allyship
Many of us are cis-gendered – that is, our gender identity aligns with our birth sex – and so assumptions by others when they refer to us may seem harmless and deem the use of pronouns in that context as unnecessary. However, displaying our pronouns lets others know that we won’t assume theirs and that others shouldn’t either. It may seem like a matter of just a few letters in brackets after your name however, this is an incredibly powerful way of demonstrating allyship to those who identify with a different gender than to the one they were given at birth.
- Cultivating a culture of inclusivity
Normalising the use of pronouns creates a culture of mutual respect and psychological safety in expressing parts of your own and other’s identity. In the workplace, this avoids the risk of misgendering and encourages and allows people to bring their whole selves to work which in turn has a positive impact on engagement, belonging and wellbeing.
What if I chose not to use pronouns?
Holding space for difference is part and parcel of inclusivity. The use of pronouns in our introductions is a personal choice rooted in personal belief and like all other choices should be respected if we are to truly practice inclusivity and celebrate difference. For example, mandating the use of pronouns through policy change, social coercion or other means may inadvertently lead to ‘outing’ those who are contemplating their gender identity. The use of pronouns, or not, must therefore be an individual choice.
That said, it is important to acknowledge that whilst some of us may choose to not explicitly demonstrate our pronouns, we must respect how others wish to be addressed where they are explicit about their choice, for example, where pronouns are clear.
At Shape Talent, we believe the use of pronouns can be a powerful act of allyship which encourages authenticity and expression of personal identity, in doing so we can create more inclusive societies. That’s why at Shape Talent, we are pro-pronouns.
If you’d like to discuss how Shape Talent can support you on this journey do get in touch.
Sharon Peake is the founder and CEO of Shape Talent Ltd, the diversity, equity and inclusion experts for complex multinational organisations who are serious about gender equality – and what it can achieve for their business.
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