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Pronouns: Why Do They Matter?

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

Conversations about sharing pronouns have been gaining steam for the last several years and many have questions on what it means to share one’s pronouns and why it matters. It’s important to clear up this confusion because this small act is a simple way that you can practice inclusion in your everyday life.


What are pronouns and how do we use them?

Pronouns are, grammatically, a word used to take the place of a noun in a sentence. In the English language, we use gender pronouns to replace nouns representing people. For example, “That is my friend Sarah, she works as an accountant.”


The English language practice of using he/she pronouns assumes the existence of the gender binary, or “a concept or belief that there are only two genders.” In reality, however, gender exists on a spectrum, including men, women, nonbinary individuals, people who identify as genderqueer, and other gender identities that exist outside of the binary.


Therefore, it is important to know the correct pronouns to refer to someone. You should never assume someone’s pronouns without asking. Just because someone presents (I.e., dresses, speaks, acts) a certain way, does not mean that a given pronoun should be used to refer to them.


Further, the common practice of using he/she to refer to people is exclusionary to all of those individuals that exist outside of the gender binary, The use of the singular “they/them” pronoun is grammatically correct and should be used for those individuals that provide those pronouns as their own.


Why is it important to use the right pronouns?

Using the right pronouns is important because it is a simple way to respect and affirm someone’s identity. Using the wrong pronouns is similar to calling someone the wrong name. By not choosing to respect someone’s given pronouns, you send a signal that you do not respect their identity.


Misgendering someone, or using the incorrect gender pronouns, is an example of a microaggression. Microaggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults toward others” (Mattingly et al., 2022).


It’s important to remember that if you make a mistake, the best thing to do is to correct yourself, apologize, and move forward. Making a big deal out of the mistake can make the individual who you misgendered feel uncomfortable or pressured to say “It’s okay.” Own your mistake, correct yourself, and make an effort to avoid the mistake in the future.

It’s also important to correct yourself and others even when an individual is not present. By holding yourself and others accountable in every setting, you are less likely to make the mistake in front of the person who it is likely to harm.


How do I ask for someone’s pronouns?

The best practice to be sure to get everyone’s pronouns correct is to get in the habit of introducing yourself with your own pronouns. For example, if you are at a networking event and you’re meeting someone new, saying “Hi, my name is Tom, my pronouns are he/him and I work in marketing.” This simple habit normalizes the practice of everyone, regardless of gender identity or expression, sharing their pronouns.


By normalizing this simple practice, you lessen the burden on those most likely to be under pressure to share their own pronouns, including those are that are gender non-conforming and likely to be misgendered. Sharing your pronouns as a gender-conforming, cisgender individual is a great example of leveraging your privilege for the betterment of others.

How do I display my own pronouns?

There are lots of easy ways to share your pronouns, especially in the virtual world. Some examples are below:

  • Many tech platforms such as Zoom, Slack, and LinkedIn have designated fields for pronouns

  • If you are attending an event with nametags, be sure to include your pronouns after your name

  • Email signatures can be easily customized to include pronouns

Other important notes

It is important to remember that not everyone will feel comfortable sharing their pronouns in every setting. For example, if you are interviewing someone for a job, they may not wish to share their pronouns for a variety of reasons. There is a key difference between sharing your own pronouns and normalizing the practice and pressuring others to do the same. If people do not wish to share their own, simply move forward and do the best you can to avoid gendered language until you know the best way to refer to an individual.

Lastly, the most beneficial thing you can do for your nonbinary and gender-expansive colleagues is to educate yourself. Taking the time to read this blog and others is a great first step. If you have questions about what it means to use certain pronouns or to have a certain gender identity, take the time to do your own research rather than asking your nonbinary colleague to explain it to you.

If you want to know more about how you can better your workplace by creating a more inclusive environment, contact Mattingly Solutions today. We are always here to support and propel your DEI efforts forward!

1 Comment


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