“Hello, Mr. Kim.” Due to my unfamiliar Korean name, I’ve often been misgendered in written materials, when asked for on the phone, or before I meet someone in person. Then, they read visual cues to recognize me as a woman.
For cisgender people like me whose gender aligns with the sex we were assigned at birth, the correction based on visual cues works out okay. Easy mistake. Easy correction. But for those in the transgender community or who are nonbinary – this issue can be more complicated and the use of correct personal pronouns (such as “he/him,” “she/her” and “they/them”) can mean so much.
“Usually we interpret or ‘read’ a person’s gender based on their outward appearance and expression, and ‘assign’ a pronoun. But our reading may not be a correct interpretation of the person’s gender identity. Because gender identity is internal – an internal sense of one’s own gender – we don’t necessarily know a person’s correct gender pronoun by looking at them. Additionally, a person may identify as genderfluid or genderqueer and may not identify along the binary of either male or female. Some people identify as both masculine and feminine, or neither. A genderqueer or non-binary identified person may prefer a gender-neutral pronoun such as the ‘they’ (e.g. ‘I know Sam. They work in the Accounting Department’).” – Human Rights Campaign: Talking Pronouns
The Pew Research Center points out the differences in the generations as it relates to gender identity. Thirty five percent of Gen Zers say they know someone who prefers that others use gender-neutral pronouns to refer to them. And both “Gen Zers and Millennials say society should be more accepting of people who don’t identify as either a man or a woman.”
With this in mind, there are many ways we can all seek to be more gender inclusive. Here are a few tips:
- Don’t assume or single anyone out based on your “read” of the person’s gender.
- At meetings where you don’t know everyone, consider asking participants to introduce themselves with their names and pronouns.
- Become aware of other commonly used terms like “you guys,” “manpower,” “ladies and gentlemen” that reinforce stereotypes.
- Don’t dwell on mistakes as it relates to pronouns. When you make a mistake (we all make them), simply apologize and move on.
- Finally, commit to learning more about transgender people and history, as well as pronoun use. I recommend Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness. GLAAD and HRC have a host of resources available on their web sites. Porter Novelli has provided media training support to The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (The Center) in New York, which also provides an array of resources.
At Porter Novelli, we have a tradition of using our transformer (the “>” mark that appears in our logo) to commemorate certain times of the year. For the past several years, we’ve adapted our transformer into a rainbow design to celebrate PRIDE in our branding and our email signatures. This year, we included the option to include our personal pronouns in our email signatures, as well. Already, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
These seemingly small actions send an important message. As the HRC states, “A culture that readily asks or provides pronouns is one committed to reducing the risk of disrespect or embarrassment for both parties.” They communicate that you are seen and that you matter. It reinforces a central Porter Novelli message: You are Welcome Here.
I’ve started adding my pronouns anywhere my bio appears and in my email signature. I want to especially encourage LGBTQ allies to do the same. This small act helps make our environments more inclusive for everyone.
Hi. My name is Soon Mee and my pronouns are she/her/hers.
Language is evolving, and so are we.
SOON MEE KIM
Executive Vice President, Global Diversity & Inclusion Leader
porternovelli.com | firstname.lastname@example.org