Navigating Pronouns at Work
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Navigating Pronouns at Work

Freelancing is tough enough, let's not spend even more time incorrectly referencing our co-workers. Here are some tips to navigating pronouns in the workspace and addressing them when there isn't necessary culture to back them up.
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What are pronouns and why are they important?

Pronouns are the words we personally use to describe our gender identity. In turn, our pronouns are the words others use when talking about us. Using the correct pronouns can be a way to affirm a person’s gender identity and show respect for who they are.

Why are conversations about our pronouns so hard to have?

Navigating one’s pronouns can be a difficult process, especially at work. While not everyone might understand the “fuss” about pronouns, it is important to always, in any setting, make people feel safe, respected, and validated for who they are. For many reasons, this can be a tricky conversation to have in the workplace. Here, we’ll talk about why these conversations matter, how to have them, how to create a positive work environment for genderqueer or fluid folks, and what we each need to do to create safe and inclusive workspaces.

Why are conversations about gender identity ignored so often?

Some people are lucky to be surrounded by people and work in spaces that prioritize, highlight, and respect people’s preferred pronouns and gender identities. However, it is all too common for work spaces to consider the gender identities and preferred pronouns of people “optional” or “personal matters” that might not have a place in the workplace, whether that be virtual or in office spaces.

The impulse to assume normatively is very easy to fall into, especially when conversations regarding respecting gender identities weren’t all that common just a few years ago. Conversations regarding pronouns have been labeled as uncomfortable and as such, many people stay away from this, but increasingly, we see platforms, employers, and people making a concerted effort to respect individual’s pronouns and make them seen. We can see this in the inclusion of pronoun options on professional profiles, and on virtual sites like Zoom, where it has become very common for people to add their pronouns as part of their viewable name. 

When there is a built in system, people always have the option to make their pronouns visible and demand that they be respected, however when freelancing, this structure might not be available. 

How does one navigate pronouns at work when there is no structure or culture to back them up?

There are multiple avenues one could take. One could ask the employer prior to accepting work how they respect the identities of LGBTQ+ or GNC (gender non-conforming) or NB (nonbinary) folks who work with them. Secondly, one could ensure that their pronouns are visible and legible to folks who might not think to ask. For example, email signatures, Zoom names, any profiles their colleagues might encounter.

The importance of being mindful of people’s pronouns in the workspace.

Being misgendered is a painful experience that no one should have to go through. It can not only trigger the reality of constant assumptions and perhaps even violence, but can in fact be distracting and negatively impact work norms, policies, cultures, and productivity. It seems needless to say that everyone's pronouns need to be respected, especially in the workplace, where respect seems to be a commonly agreed upon value of successful professional relationships and spaces, but it must be said.

Who is it on to make sure freelancers’ pronouns are being respected?

Further, there is no fool-proof way to ensure that conversations are had, that the importance of respect is highlighted, and that people follow through in seeing and speaking to people as who they are. The work, however, definitely should not fall on the shoulders of the person who wants their pronouns respected. It falls on organizations to set these expectations. This can be done by ensuring that all people have an equal commitment to respecting pronouns, before engaging anyone on a professional level. It can mean having conversations that are awkward; but awkward is a small price to pay for people’s safety and security.

What can be done (and by who)?

I say we start at a very basic place: make sure everyone states and displays their pronouns. The reason being that it is normalized to be thinking about and speaking people’s preferred pronouns (even when people don’t feel the need), so that it is ingrained and no one is singled out or left alienated, for asking that their pronouns be respected.