What are Pronouns and Why do they Matter?

rainbow balloons celebrating pride

by Mike Morgan, Director, chair of Hays UK&I LGBTQ+ Pride Network

It’s Pride month – which means it’s time to celebrate, hang up the rainbow flags and coat everything in glitter, right? Partly. While Pride is, of course, a time for the LGBTQ+ community and allies to rejoice in their relationships and celebrate how far we’ve come, it remains a time to raise awareness and increase education around certain topics. One such important point of discussion is pronouns.

The acronym LGBTQ+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Plus – which represents other identities and sexual orientations. The community doesn’t only represent people’s right of expression of their sexuality, but gender identity too – and corresponds to the pronouns (he/she/they/etc) that we use.

You may have noticed people adding pronouns to their social media bios or email signatures and wondered why. Perhaps you’ve, without question, also added your pronouns to your name. So, let’s unpick the pronoun debate. We’ll be discussing what pronouns are, who can use them, and how we can be more mindful and respectful to our colleagues who choose to share their pronouns that others may not expect or fully understand.

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What are pronouns?

If you refer to yourself as ‘he’ or ‘she’ – you use pronouns. Everyone does, and it can be all too easy to think that the conversation around pronouns should end there. But is it that straightforward?

In fact, with shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Pose reaching mainstream audiences, we’re growing increasingly aware of people who don’t fit into the ‘he’ or ‘she’ boxes.  Regardless of their outward appearance, it can be jarring to have to use pronouns that simply don’t accurately match how they feel on the inside. Luckily, there are many different pronouns an individual can go by, but the most common gender-neutral terms are ‘they/them’.

How does the use of pronouns help organisations with ED&I?

Adding pronouns to your email signatures or on social media platforms helps others know how you’d like to be addressed. It overcomes potentially awkward conversations, even if those pronouns are the ‘typical’ kind. For example, displaying pronouns can help non-binary people (those who feel neither male or female) and transgender individuals. Even if you identify as cisgender (the sex you were given at birth), displaying your pronouns shows solidarity and helps normalise the acceptance of differences in the workplace.

It can also answer the question of how someone with a more typically gender-neutral name identifies (i.e. Jas, Ali, Justice, Kai – the list goes on) and avoid any awkward first encounters!

All that said, you might be asking, “why show solidarity if you don’t feel that this is an issue that affects you?” Equity, diversity and inclusion affect everyone. They are core values for many organisations, and showing support is important for fostering a positive workplace culture where everyone feels they can bring their authentic selves to work. That’s not to say you must include pronouns in your email signature, but taking steps to become better educated, more open-minded and considerate of your colleagues is a great place to start. It’s about respecting people’s pronouns and their right to use them.

Why are we talking about this now?

According to a LinkedIn poll* we ran at the beginning of Pride month, an overwhelming 78% of respondents said their organisations do not offer any educational materials or training around gender and pronouns. However, as the younger generations enter the workforce – who are more likely to have more awareness, opinions and knowledge of the topic – we could see this change. This would help future employees feel as welcomed and respected as everyone else, and help them to bring their best selves to work and stick around.

Being supportive of people who don’t fit into the gender ‘norms’ doesn’t mean you necessarily have to change anything about yourself or how you operate. If adding your own pronouns to your email signature or social media doesn’t feel right, that’s fine – but a great step in the right direction is to have an open mindset, a respectful attitude, and a willingness to learn, even if you’re not part of the community who are directly affected or impacted. For more information, why not check out Stonewall’s wealth of resources.

*The LinkedIn Poll received 1,646 votes

About the author

Mike Morgan has worked at Hays for 17 years and is currently operations director for Birmingham and permanent lead for the Midlands in the UK. He runs the IT and digital technology divisions, alongside policy and strategy.