Words matter. Especially in this time of heightened awareness around diversity, equity and inclusion. Our mission is focused on creating opportunities for people with barriers to employment, and even we need to be reminded once in a while about how the small choices we make can have a big impact.
A couple of months ago, Melissa, one of our Information Services team members, initiated a conversation with their manager about pronouns.
Melissa: Growing up, I never bothered to realize I was anything other than my assumed gender. As I grew older, I could tell that something didn’t fit, that I wasn’t the stereotypical “boy.” After some time looking around on the internet, talking to my friends and family, and just thinking on the concept of genders, I tried on female pronouns. I had my family, friends, and coworkers call me “her.” But it still didn’t sit right. When I found that agender (without-gender) was an option, that felt right. It felt like I found myself; finally giving me clarity and insight.
Some examples of gender neutral pronouns include they, them, and their. These can be used in place of gender-specific pronouns he, him, his and she, her, hers.
When I approached my supervisor about my proper pronouns they naturally had questions. Overall, I found the conversation to be an easy process here, but that’s likely due to our culture. We are all about eliminating barriers. It all starts with asking. That was the most difficult part. I was surprised at how easy it was. When you educate people they are more willing to change than you might expect.
While gender neutral pronouns have been around for quite a while, it may be an adjustment for some people to get familiar with their use in regular conversation. Everyone makes mistakes. Apologize, correct yourself, and move on. If you heard a co-worker referring to someone by the wrong name you would politely correct them, right? Treat pronouns the same way. Melissa has also found other ways to help educate others on the topic.
I began to notice other organizations that were including pronouns in their email signatures, so I did a little research. There’s so much information out there. Even on this seemingly niche topic, it only took about an hour and a half to come up with a list of reliable sources. The GLSEN has some great information on the topic:
"People’s pronouns relate to their gender identity. For example, someone who identifies as a woman may use the pronouns 'she/her.' We do not want to assume people’s gender identity based on gender expression (typically shown through clothing, hairstyle, mannerisms, etc.) By providing an opportunity for people to share their pronouns, you're showing that you're not assuming what their gender identity is based on their appearance." - GLSEN
Adding pronouns to email signatures helps to educate others and normalize the conversation. Melissa suggested that others in the organization consider adding pronouns to their signatures as well.
I can’t stress enough how much good it does to normalize the concept of proper pronouns. These are not just for transgender and gender-nonconforming people. If it were just me, it would be a transgender individual drawing attention to my “trans-ness” and I would be alone. But together, we are people of all backgrounds asking for more precision in communications.
For employers, you don’t have to force gender issues on your employees. But do be knowledgeable and open minded. If you can’t find an answer, ask your employees, respectfully, what their thoughts are. Use your employee base as the experts on the subject.
The Relay executive team has since added pronouns to their signatures and encouraged the update to spread organically in a way that is comfortable for each individual. The addition has spurred conversations and lead to more education on the topic.
I know that not all of my co-workers will want to take steps to add pronouns to their emails. And that’s ok. I wouldn’t think less of those who choose not to. I know more good will come out of one person gaining a new understanding than if we left everyone in the dark.
We hope Melissa’s story can inspire employees here at Relay and beyond to advocate for their needs in the workplace. Below are few simple steps to guide you whenever you’re ready to lead change in your organization:
ADVOCATING FOR CHANGE IN YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Is this an issue that other companies have faced? How did they approach the situation? Finding other organizations and their solutions can give you real-life examples to point towards, both providing a solution and justifying that the issue is something to be addressed. If your organization has tried to address the issue in the past, what happened that it didn’t result in the desired solution?
BACK IT UP WITH DATA
Are you able to show data from a reputable source that relates to the impact of your issue? Even better, can you pull data about the impact to your own organization? Numbers are powerful in a business environment and reputable sources will strengthen your position. What makes a reputable source? Check out this link from the Georgetown University Library.
Who in your organization can help you address the issue and is in a position to create change? Maybe it’s your manager, someone in HR, or a member of the executive team. Reach out to them about discussing the issue.
BE OPEN TO CONVERSATION
When you are ready to sit down with them about the issue, be prepared with your research and data, as well as any proposed solutions you may have. Be ready to have an open discussion about how your resolution may be implemented and questions they may need to sort out. Some changes are easier than others. If your issue involves additional costs or resources, it may be more complicated to implement.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for.”
– former President Barack Obama
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