Best Practices

Inclusive Gender Pronoun Use: Trends Across Sectors

June 2020

An effective way to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion is by normalizing the use of gender pronouns through your work, communications and interactions with employees and customers.

Today, the use of inclusive, non-binary pronouns is becoming more widely used across all industry sectors, including in the workplace, in community-based settings, and even in K-12 schools and post-secondary education. It is an important practice in promoting inclusion for individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ and ensuring all people feel welcomed and included regardless of their gender identity.

This report offers guidance around inclusive pronoun use and provides case study examples of what organizations and institutions are doing across industry sectors.

A listing of additional resources is also included in the report.

An effective way to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion is by normalizing the use of gender pronouns through your work, communications and interactions with employees and customers.

Today, the use of inclusive, non-binary pronouns is becoming more widely used across all industry sectors, including in the workplace, in community-based settings, and even in K-12 schools and post-secondary education. While it may be initially awkward and unfamiliar, it’s an important practice in promoting inclusion for individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ and ensuring all people feel welcomed and included regardless of their gender identity.

This report offers guidance around inclusive pronoun use and provides case study examples of what organizations and institutions are doing across industry sectors.

A listing of additional resources is also included in the report.

Guidance and Tips

A Cautionary Note

It is important to explore the possible implications of pronoun sharing for members of the community the practice is meant to support, says H. L. “Lou” Himes (they/them/theirs), a clinical psychologist in New York who specializes in gender and sexuality.

While Himes appreciates that recognizing diverse pronouns and gender identities is a small, but significant step toward equality, they say it also calls for caution. “With murder rates rising among black trans women, attempts of suicide at a rate nine times that of the general population, and 30% of transgender people reporting harassment, discrimination, or violence in the workplace, well-meaning institutions must consider the safety of their transgender employees first and foremost,” Himes says.

“Any company nudge to share pronouns has to be, and feel, optional, otherwise what looks like inclusion will manifest as a forced outing or forced closeting”, advices Himes. They suggest starting with more fundamental training about gender, and in that session reviewing several ways of showing solidarity with trans or non-binary and gender-fluid people—including through their approach to pronouns.

Guidance from Human Rights Campaign

The experience of being misgendered can be hurtful, angering, and even distracting. The experience of accidentally misgendering someone can be embarrassing for both parties, creating tension and leading to communication breakdowns across teams and with customers.

Gender pronouns (such as “he/him/his” and “she/her/hers”) refer to people that you are talking about. Gender pronouns are the way that we constantly refer to each other’s gender identity. 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 gender-fluid or genderqueer and may not identify along the binary of either male or female (e.g. “him” or “her”).

Some people identify as both masculine and feminine, or neither. These individuals may opt to use gender expansive pronouns such as “they, them and theirs” instead of the gendered “he, him and his” or “she, her and hers.” In addition, gendered honorifics such as “Ms.” or “Mr.” may change to the more inclusive “Mx.”

Best Practice Tips

To better understand what it means to be transgender, it is important to understand the difference between gender identity—how people perceive their own internal sense of maleness or femaleness, and sexual orientation—which describes who people fall in love with and/or are sexually attracted to. An individual’s gender identity does not necessarily assume a particular sexual
orientation. Transgender people can be straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual—gender identity is separate from their sexual orientation.

When asking a trans person about themselves, use the same boundaries you would use for talking to anyone in the workplace. If you wouldn’t ask a non-transgender person (cisgender) then it isn’t appropriate to ask a transgender person either.

It is irrelevant to a person’s gender identity and public life if they have or have not had any form of surgical procedure, sexual reassignment or otherwise. Therefore, using terms such as “pre-op” and “post-op” to describe a transgender person is offensive and should not be used.

Sex and gender are not the same thing. Sex refers to the designation of a person at birth as either “male” or “female” based on their anatomy (e.g., reproductive organs) and/or their biology (e.g., hormones). Gender refers to the traditional or stereotypical roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society consider appropriate for men and women.

Transgender is an adjective and can be shortened to trans. The word “transgendered” should never be used, nor should someone be referred to as “ a transgender.”

Always use a person’s most current chosen name and pronouns whether speaking about this person’s past, present or future. If you do not know, or are uncertain, do not assume—simply ask the person what their preferences are.

Example of Pronoun Use

• She/Her: “She is a writer and wrote that book herself. Those ideas are hers. I like both her and her ideas.”
• He/Him: “He is a writer and wrote that book himself. Those ideas are his. I like both him and his ideas.”
• They/Them: “They are a writer and wrote that book themself. Those ideas are
theirs. I like both them and their ideas.” Please note that although “they” pronouns here are singular and refer to an individual, the verbs are conjugated the same as with the plural “they” (e.g. “they are”). Also note that in this singular pronoun set many use “themself” rather than “themselves,” although both are typically acceptable.
• Ze/Hir: “Ze is a writer and wrote that book hirself. Those ideas are hirs. I like both
hir and hir ideas.” Please note that “ze” is usually pronounced with a long “e” and that “hir” and its forms are usually pronounced like the English word “here.” Some people instead go by “ze/zir” pronouns because of the more consistent pronunciation and spelling.

Why Pronouns Matter

Never make any assumptions about what pronoun someone uses based off of their appearance. There’s no such thing as “looking like” a he, a she or a they. The only way you can know what pronoun someone prefers is by asking them.

In practice, you should ask everyone what pronoun they use if you don’t know. When you don’t know someone’s pronouns and can’t ask them, it’s always safe to use the gender-neutral “they” until you hear otherwise.

Using someone’s correct personal pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment, just as using a person’s name can be a way to respect them. Just as it can be offensive or even harassing to make up a nickname for someone and call them that nickname against their will, it can be offensive or harassing to guess at someone’s pronouns and refer to them using those pronouns if that is not how that person wants to be known. Or, worse, actively choosing to ignore the pronouns someone has stated that they go by could imply the oppressive notion that intersex, transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people do not or should not exist.

Tips to Consider When Using Gender Pronouns

Normalize: Use pronouns across your organization by adding your personal gender pronoun to email signatures and bios—this reinforces that people shouldn’t assume someone’s pronoun based on the traditional gendering of a name.

Ask: Ask everyone their pronouns, not just those that may be trans or non-binary.
Practice: Using gender pronouns frequently can help make it part of your normal day-to-day interactions. If you’re thinking of making an organization-wide change, consider using pronouns during introductions to meetings, trainings, and during ice-breaker activities.

Apologize: Mistakes happen. If you make a mistake when using gender pronouns, simply apologize and correct yourself.

One size doesn’t fit all: There are dozens of pronouns and terms people use to describe themselves. The best piece of advice, is to simply call people what they want to be called.

Use non-binary greetings: Instead of saying “Hey ladies” or “How’s it going, guys?” try to use gender neutral language like “folks,” “friends,” or “y’all.”

Tips to Consider

Four tips for adding pronouns to email signatures:

• Involve transgender and non-binary folks—who this policy most affects—in the decision making and implementation process.
• Provide general gender identity/expression training for staff so they understand the basics and don’t mis-gender people they work with (or serve).
• Pronoun usage should always be voluntary. Making them mandatory may “out” folks who are not yet ready to share their full identity in their work life.
• Pronouns should be chosen and written by the person using them, never assigned by someone else.

Pronouns can’t be the only tactic in your efforts to be more inclusive. Here are some other policy considerations to keep in mind as you work to build an affirming workplace culture for nonbinary and transgender staff:
• Do you have gender-neutral bathrooms available? If not, do you have a policy ensuring people can use the restroom in which they feel most comfortable?
• Do you offer gender identity training to customer service staff who answer phones or greet clients and partners in person?
• Does your health insurance provider include trans-affirming surgery and/or hormones?
• For client-facing services, is your intake accessible? For example, do you have a place for “legal name”, “preferred name,” “gender pronouns,” and more than two checkboxes under “gender?” These should be considered for volunteer application and employment forms as well.
• Do you actively recruit trans and non-binary folks to your organization? (Even if they don’t “pass” for the gender they identify as?)

Creating a LGBTQ Inclusive Environment

Educate the Workforce. There is limited knowledge around transgender issues in the wider community, and what information is available is often incorrect or misunderstood. Take training back to basics. Explain everything simply with
as few buzzwords or jargon as possible. Use personal stories to highlight how people deal with being transgender in society and how society reacts to them.

Publicize. Make transgender awareness as ‘loud and visible’ as possible within the organization. Get senior leaders to actively and visibly support events. Provide awareness during team-building events, in social media communications, and
bring in external speakers to talk to the issue. The more people hear, talk and participate in transgender awareness and education, the more they will understand challenges facing the community, and the sooner it will become normalized.

Make it Safe. Don’t constrain conversations or questions by putting rules in place on what people can ask, what words they can and can’t use, and what they can and can’t say. Let the conversation be open and honest; make people attending feel safe as well as the presenters. Provide support to transgender employees through workshops, confidential helplines, and develop practical transition guidelines for managers, staff and transgender individuals.

Be Visible. Be open. PRIDE buttons and flags signal support. So do “I’ll go with you” buttons that show that you will walk with a transgender person to the restroom. Be familiar with terminology for LGBT and neuro diverse communities.
Understand how to support colleagues coming out at work: Ask “How can I help you?” Don’t assume that a person is out to everyone, whether about their sexuality, gender, or mental illness.

Ask Questions and Find Common Ground. For example, Have you ever known someone who was gay? Transgender? Autistic? Bipolar? Questions can help coworkers with different backgrounds, experiences, and needs find common
ground. For example: Did you grow up in the same area? Do you both have children? Do you do a similar kind of work?

Trends Across Sectors: Email & Internal Pronoun Usage

Goldman Sachs has launched an internal campaign to promote awareness about pronouns and how employees self-identify. In a blog post, Goldman listed “tips for being an inclusive ally”, and advised that employees should not assume a colleague’s pronoun or pronouns based on gender.

The Wall Street bank said the campaign was meant to encourage workers to recognize and use colleagues’ self-identified pronoun or pronouns to “show respect and ensure a more inclusive environment.“

“To enable our people to optimize their potential, we believe in fostering an inclusive environment where they feel comfortable to be their authentic selves,” the post said.

Jenner & Block Rolls Out Preferred Pronoun Policy

In 2019, law firm Jenner & Block decided to give its employees the option of using
their preferred pronouns in email signatures and other law firm communications.
• Employees given option to affirm pronouns in emails, bio pages
• Pronoun choice seen by firm as “next natural step”

The firm, which started the policy in May, noted that in addition to email signatures, employees may also gender-identify while using the firm’s intranet, on their Jenner biography web pages, and on their business cards.

Cushman & Wakefield Email Pronoun Usage

Janice O’Neill, the director of talent management at property firm Cushman &
Wakefield, urged staff in 2018 to “add their pronouns” to their email signature.

Most of the messaging about pronouns was directed to staff in the western
hemisphere, taking into account local attitudes about gender-inclusive pronouns.

Now the company uses pronouns in email signatures across its global platform.

Intuit Creates Optional Pronoun Field

At the software firm Intuit, a staff engineer recently took it upon himself to introduce an optional pronoun field to employees’ Slack profile, winning kudos and gratitude from peers, says Scott Beth (he/him/his), chief diversity and inclusion officer at the company.

More than 400 of the firm’s 8,000-plus employees have completed LGBTQ ally-ship training, which includes education about gender identities and pronouns.

National Recreation and Park Association Approach

The use of gender pronouns is becoming more widely used across all sectors, including at schools, universities, businesses, community programs, and yes, even in parks and recreation! While it may be unfamiliar, it’s an important practice in promoting inclusion for those who identify as LGBTQ+. As public entities and community-based providers, local park and recreation agencies serve people from all races, ages, orientations and identities. To that note, we should ensure that all people not only have access to park and recreation places, spaces and programs, but that all people feel welcome and included.

A wonderful way to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion is by normalizing the use of gender pronouns through your work, communications and interactions. That’s why, for the first time, NRPA is providing gender pronoun ribbons at our annual conference. This year, all attendees will have the option of sporting their personal gender pronoun on their conference badge. You can pick up a pronoun ribbon near the registration area. We’ll be providing the following options:
• She/Her/Hers
• He/Him/His
• They/Them/Theirs
• Fill in your pronoun (blank ribbons provided to write your personal gender pronoun)

Trends Across Sectors: Client Facing Pronoun Best Practices

TIAA Adopts Inclusive Pronoun Use

Last year, TIAA rolled out new gender-identity awareness guidelines for its client-facing consultants. The guidance included: “Never assume someone’s gender identity” and “Be aware that a person’s pronouns can change over time. They may also change based on context.”

More remarkably, it stated: “Create the space for gender inclusion by asking for a client’s preferred name and pronouns and/or by sharing yours (‘Hello, my name is Jane and my pronouns are she/her. It’s very nice to meet you.’)”

Corie Pauling (she/her/hers), TIAA’s chief inclusion and diversity officer, says this style of introduction is a way of indicating that the client should feel welcomed, that “your desire is to include them.”

HSBC Offers Gender-Neutral Titles

HSBC offers the transgender community a choice of 10 new gender-neutral titles
as part of its plan to improve the banking experience for customers.

The banks says its account holders will no longer have to use conventional titles
such as Mr., Mrs. and Ms., but instead be able to choose from a long list that
includes Mx., Ind., M., Mre., and Misc.

HSBC said titles chosen would be applied across customers’ accounts, including on their bank cards and all correspondence.

The new service has been developed in tandem with HSBC Pride, the bank’s
internal lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employee network.

United Airlines Adopts MX Pronoun

United Airlines announced in March that it will be the first U.S. airline to allow customers to identify themselves with a non-binary gender.

The airline offers non-binary gender options throughout all booking channels in addition to providing the option to select the title “Mx.” during booking and in a MileagePlus customer profile.

Customers now have the ability to identify themselves as M(male), F(female), U(undisclosed) or X(unspecified), corresponding with what is indicated on their passports or identification.

United Airlines has also teamed up with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and The Trevor Project to compile initiatives by which employees will be trained about preferred pronouns and the persistence of gender norms, LGBT competency in the workplace and other steps to make United an inclusive space for both customers and employees.

Airlines Adopt Non-binary Options

Airlines for America and International Air Transport Association, an airline trade group representing global carriers, recently approved a suggested standard to allow non-binary options in addition to “male” or “female.” Those options include “unspecified” or “undisclosed”. The standard will go into effect at the beginning of June, but it will fall on the airlines themselves to update their booking systems with alternative gender options.

“U.S. airlines value a culture of diversity and inclusion, both in the workplace and for our passengers, and we work hard each day to accommodate the needs of all travelers, while delivering a safe, secure and enjoyable flight experience,” Airlines for America stated. The trade group represents American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Alaska Airlines, among other carriers.

American Airlines is “in the early stages” of adding another pronoun option, the Wall Street Journal said. Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines are currently considering changes to their booking processes as well.

Delta Air reported it plans to offer gender non-binary options, though it has not specified when that will happen.

New York City Adopts Inclusive Pronoun Policy

The New York City Commission on Human Rights Legislation requires employers and covered entities to use the name, pronouns, and title (e.g., Ms./Mrs./Mx.) with which a person selfidentifies, regardless of the person’s sex assigned at birth, anatomy, gender, medical history, appearance, or the sex indicated on the person’s identification.

All people, including employees, tenants, customers, and participants in programs, have the right to use and have others use their name and pronouns regardless of whether they have identification in that name or have obtained a court-ordered name change, except in very limited circumstances where certain federal, state, or local laws require otherwise (e.g., for purposes of employment
eligibility verification with the federal government). Asking someone in good-faith for their name and gender pronouns is not a violation of the NYCHRL.

Covered entities may avoid violations of the NYCHRL by creating a policy of asking everyone what their gender pronouns are so that no person is singled out for such questions and by updating their systems, intake forms, or other questionnaires to allow all people to self-identify their name and gender. Covered entities should not limit the options for identification to male and female only.

University Establishes Policy Around Pronouns

Our institution’s official policy states that “The University of Maryland recognizes that name and gender identity are central to most individuals’ sense of self and well-being, and that it is important for the University to establish mechanisms to acknowledge and support individuals’ selfidentification.” One way we can support self-identification is by honoring the name and pronouns that each of us go by.

Many people (e.g. international students, performers/writers, trans people, and others) might go by a name in daily life that is different from their legal name. In this classroom, we seek to refer to people by the names that they go by.

Pronouns can be a way to affirm someone’s gender identity, but they can also be unrelated to a person’s identity. They are simply a public way in which people are referred to in place of their name (e.g. “he” or “she” or “they” or “ze” or something else). In this classroom, you are invited (if you want to) to share what pronouns you go by, and we seek to refer to people using the pronouns that they share. The pronouns someone indicates are not necessarily indicative of their gender identity.

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