There has been progress in the legal landscape, the realm of social opinions, and attitudes towards sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression. Nonetheless, discrimination is still rampant in all areas of public and private life, including the workplace.
In fact, 8–17% of gay and transgender workers report being passed over for a job or fired due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the same report, 7–41% of gay and transgender workers have been verbally or physically abused or have had their workplace vandalized.
Although progress has been made, society still has a long way to go. Inclusive environments should be fostered to protect and validate everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. One of the first steps towards this reality is to use the correct pronouns when referring to individuals.
Just as one puts value to their name, people should also be correctly identified through their pronouns. A person’s identity shouldn’t depend on another’s perceptions and assumptions. This infographic will provide everything you need to know about gender and neo pronouns and how to use them correctly.
Gender and Neo Pronouns: A Guide to Using the Correct Term
Pronouns are words that replace nouns in a sentence. Everyone uses the pronouns “you,” “we,” or “they” almost every day. However, since people with various gender identities exist in workplaces worldwide, it’s important to learn their correct pronouns.
What are Gender Pronouns?
A gender pronoun is used by a person to reference themselves. Everyone has the right to use the pronouns that suit their personal identities, and people should use these when referring to them in conversations. However, note that pronouns may or may not match their gender expression (how they dress, behave, or look), so it’s best never to assume their pronouns.
The following are the most widely-used gender pronouns:
These pronouns can refer to people who identify as boys or men but are not limited to males—they can be used by straight men, gay men, or transgender men. However, not all people who have a masculine appearance or affirm a male identity use he/him/his/himself.
Alex borrowed his dad’s car because he needed to go to the grocery.
These pronouns can refer to people who identify as girls or women but are not limited to females. For instance, they can be used by straight women, lesbians, or transgender women. Similar to “he/him,” not all who appear to be feminine or affirm a female identity use she/her/hers/herself.
Alex borrowed her dad’s car because she needed to go to the grocery.
The pronoun “they” has been used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun across history. The Oxford English Dictionary has even sourced the singular “they” as far back as 1375. Thus, these pronouns can represent people whose identities are outside the gender binary (he or she), such as non-binary, genderqueer, agender, or gender-nonconforming people.
Although they/them/their/themselves can refer to individuals whose gender pronouns are unknown, it’s always best to ask whenever possible.
Alex borrowed their dad’s car because they needed to go to the grocery.
What are Neo Pronouns?
Neo (new) pronouns are pronouns that are increasingly being used in place of “she,” “he,” or “they.” Although often used by transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people, anyone can use these pronouns.
Neo pronouns are personal to each individual. Although they exist in various forms, they share a common denominator: they are used to make a person feel comfortable by having their identity acknowledged and respected.
The following are commonly used neo pronouns and how they can be used:
Ze/hir/hirs/hirself (pronounced “zee/heer/heers/heerself”)
Alex borrowed hir dad’s car because ze needed to go to the grocery.
Xe/xem/xyrs/xyrself (pronounced “zee/zem/zeers/zeerself”)
Alex borrowed xyrs dad’s car because xe needed to go to the grocery.
Ey/em/eir/emself (pronounced “ey/em/air/emself”)
Alex borrowed eir dad’s car because ey needed to go to the grocery.
Per/per/pers/perself (pronounced “pur/pur/purs/purself”)
Alex borrowed pers dad’s car because per needed to go to the grocery.
Fae/faer/faers/faerself (pronounced “fay/fair/fairs/fairself”)
Alex borrowed faer dad’s car because fae needed to go to the grocery.
The evolution of neo pronouns can be attributed to the limiting nature of binary pronouns, though “they/them/theirs” offer an alternative way to refer to people without assuming their gender.
Still, neo pronouns are intentionally created to make pronouns feel like they encapsulate a broader gender spectrum. For instance, neo pronouns allow people to refer to individuals in the third person without placing them in a gender binary.
The Dos and Don’ts of Using Pronouns
A degree of professionalism and respect is expected at the workplace, and this should be extended to everyone. Using someone’s correct pronoun is a simple way to respect their gender identity. To ensure this, the following are practices you should follow, as well as practices to avoid:
- If you’re uncertain, ask your co-worker what specific pronoun they use. Make sure to share your pronouns first to make them feel comfortable. When you’ve learned their pronouns, start using them in daily conversations and in writing.
- Apologize and correct yourself when you mistake someone’s pronouns.
- Respect every individual’s name, pronouns, and identity.
- Be open to discussions about gender and how it affects other people’s lives and yours. If you want to ensure that everyone works efficiently, they need to feel respected and acknowledged.
- Gently correct people who misgender or use incorrect pronouns for someone, and set a good example for the rest of your co-workers. Most importantly, report any form of abuse or harassment you witness. Reach out to a gender discrimination lawyer if necessary.
- Use neutral or inclusive language when addressing a group of people, such as “hello, everyone!” “great work, team,” or “attention, people.”
- Afford the same credibility, respect, privacy, and courtesy you desire for yourself to the LGBTQIA+ community—from your boss and junior colleagues to office staff members.
- If the person does not want to disclose their pronouns to the public, refer to them by their name only.
- Avoid assuming a person’s gender based on their appearance. Since a person’s pronouns do not necessarily match their gender expression (how they dress or act at work), it’s best not to make any assumptions.
- Don’t refer to someone with their previous name or gender status, as this invalidates their identity.
- Never use the terms “it” or “he-she.” These are slurs against transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.
- Don’t insist someone to identify as either man or woman. This invalidates other gender identities and can perpetuate gender discrimination in the workplace.
- Don’t be afraid to have respectful conversations about gender-related issues.
- Don’t panic over pronunciations. There are many neo pronoun variations, so it’s always best to ask for clarification.
- Never assume why a person goes by their pronouns. Always clarify with them and never explain their pronouns on their behalf. Avoid gossiping about them at work.
- Avoid using the term “preferred” pronouns since someone’s pronouns are not a preference. This implies that another person can also “prefer” not to call them by their correct pronouns.
Using Pronoun Privilege for the Better
When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, they can feel disrespected, invalidated, alienated, or dysphoric. Thus, it is never safe to assume someone’s gender. Living in a world where people naturally assume your correct pronouns is a privilege that not everyone experiences.
Equipped with the knowledge of how to use the correct gender and neo pronouns, you can help create a safer and more inclusive environment. Just as one is expected to be respectful in conversation with colleagues, respect for your colleagues’ gender identities should also be basic practice. In a world where discrimination and oppression persist, respecting others’ identities can go a long way.
In the workplace, people can still be treated less favorably due to their gender or gender expression. If you or someone you know has been experiencing this or other workplace issues, reach out to Shegerian & Associates for legal assistance.