In workplaces around the United States, there has been a lot of conversation about how to address the gender pronoun issue. We don’t see this as a complicated matter, or as a matter of politics. Using people’s preferred pronouns is easy, and it shows that you respect that person for who they are and not who you think they’re supposed to be. Plus, it makes your workplace more comfortable for everyone.
If you’re looking for a basic resource that explains what gender pronouns are and how to use them properly, there’s a really great primer on the website Culture Amp.
In our current article, however, we’re going to talk you through a few simple reasons why gender pronouns matter in the workplace, and why they matter in your personal life as well.
People need to feel respected in the workplace
As we stated in the introduction to this article, using the pronouns a person identifies with is simply a matter of respect. If a person is trying to work in a place where they’re constantly referred to by the wrong pronouns, they will feel disrespected and deeply uncomfortable.
In the workplace, it’s important to make sure everyone feels respected, from your employees to your clients or customers. And that means that using the correct pronouns is vitally important.
But that respect doesn’t end when you clock out. When you’re interacting with friends and family members in your free time, you should be showing the same amount of care and respect that you would at the office.
Respect breeds satisfaction and loyalty
We’re going to piggyback on the previous point and talk about how respect impacts job performance.
The Harvard Business Review has a great article titled “The Price of Incivility” that examines the impact of disrespectful behavior in work environments. We recommend reading the piece in its entirety, but here’s just one paragraph that relates to the issue at hand:
The costs chip away at the bottom line. Nearly everybody who experiences workplace incivility responds in a negative way, in some cases overtly retaliating. Employees are less creative when they feel disrespected, and many get fed up and leave. About half deliberately decrease their effort or lower the quality of their work. And incivility damages customer relationships. Our research shows that people are less likely to buy from a company with an employee they perceive as rude, whether the rudeness is directed at them or at other employees. Witnessing just a single unpleasant interaction leads customers to generalize about other employees, the organization, and even the brand.
Disrespecting your employees or coworkers has negative consequences for your organization. In some cases, these consequences can be long-lasting.
It’s best to simply show people the respect they deserve and use their proper pronouns.
This really isn’t a complex issue
If your friend Jonathan prefers to be called John but also hates to be called Johnny, you won’t invest any effort into explaining to him why you think he’s not John; you’ll simply refer to him as John going forward. If you approach your friend Rachael and say, “Good morning, Rach,” and she tells you, “Good morning, but please call me Rachael,” you won’t get upset or embarrassed; you’ll just note that you should call her Rachael from now on. In both scenarios, your relationships with these people won’t change – you’ll just accept that they have preferences and carry on with your life.
Gender pronouns are exactly this simple. While too many people feel the need to get politics involved, this isn’t a political issue; it’s simply a matter of respect and of personal preference.
If someone asks you to refer to them using the pronouns they and them, it’s the same as asking you to use one nickname rather than another one. There’s nothing complex or political about that; it’s a simple matter of referring to someone in the way that makes them feel comfortable.
There can be legal repercussions for using incorrect pronouns
We saved this point for last because we didn’t want the legal aspects of this conversation to color the rest of the article. But we wouldn’t be doing our due diligence if we didn’t address this.
Misusing pronouns can be legally defined as a form of discrimination.
Let’s look at the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) as an example. This is a massive piece of legislation, so we’re not going to cover it in any detail. What’s important to know is that New York defines deliberate misuse of a person’s pronouns to be discrimination, and repeated misuse can have legal repercussions, including six-figure fines.
That means it’s important to acknowledge a person’s pronouns and use them correctly and respectfully. Not doing so could cost you money and legal headaches.
Using a person’s preferred gender pronouns is simple, but it’s also an important part of recognizing who they are as a person. If you misuse a pronoun by mistake, don’t dwell on it. Just offer a quick apology and try to do better next time. If you misuse pronouns deliberately, though, we do need to warn you that you’re in dangerous territory. Not only is this something you could lose your job over, but it reflects poorly on you as a person.
Show your friends and coworkers respect by honoring their pronouns. It’s easy, it won’t cost you anything, and it’s a very simple way to show them that you respect who they are.