Why Getting Pronouns Right Matters in the Workplace

Photo credit: Tim Mossholder, pexels.com.
Photo credit: Tim Mossholder, pexels.com.

Since I began training full-time in 2017, far and away my most popular LGBTQ workplace inclusion training has been my Gender and Pronoun 101. It covers three dimensions of gender, terminology, laws, best practices, and pronouns. Professionals increasingly report curiosity and confusion with a lack of understanding about how to get people’s pronouns right. Can we ask someone what their pronouns are? What do I do if I misgender someone, or if I hear someone else use the wrong pronoun for my colleague? Why is it wrong to say “he or she” or “ladies and gentlemen?”

Sometimes, in their best efforts to be respectful, people can get frustrated learning these new skills. Some people fear using a gender-neutral pronoun like “they/them/theirs” is grammatically incorrect, or even unprofessional. Others have had painful or embarrassing experiences using incorrect pronouns for someone and want to avoid talking about pronouns at all, for fear of “doing it wrong” and upsetting someone. With a younger and younger workforce (especially in technology industries), and an increasing number of transgender people identifying as nonbinary,[1] it is vitally important workplaces get this right.

The importance of getting pronouns right in the workplace can be summarized in three perspectives: 

  • Basic respect: We want to respect people’s correct name and pronouns to show basic respect for their identities, and to provide clarity for that person’s clients and colleagues. When we get someone’s pronouns wrong, we not only show disrespect for their authentic self, but we can put them in danger by outing them to others.
  • Impact on work focus and stress response: People who are consistently misgendered in the workplace (called by the incorrect name or pronoun) experience higher levels of minority stress,[2] causing decreases in work productivity, work commitment, and perhaps an increase in sick days. This negatively impacts companies’ bottom line.[3][4]
  • Laws: Several states, like California, have laws protecting people on the basis of their gender identity, providing that they must be called by their correct name and pronoun regardless of whether legal name and/or gender change has been completed.[5]

I’ve developed a well-honed LGBTQ workplace inclusion training that addresses exactly these questions! I cover the history of gender-neutral pronouns in English, guide participants through practice introducing their own pronouns, and support participants in embodying best practices if we misgender someone or see them misgendered through an innovative roleplay.

Here’s what people are saying about my Gender and Pronoun 101 training:

The Gender and Pronoun 101 training was FABULOUS. The group discussions and roleplaying scenarios were very helpful. Kelsey is so knowledgeable and professional!

–Associate, Boston Consulting Group–San Francisco

The pronoun roleplay was the most helpful thing for me–I was skeptical because I thought it was super straightforward. I was wrong.

-Employee, Scoop

If you make a mistake (mis-gendering someone), Kelsey provided great tips to handle (acknowledge and apologize in the moment – don’t make a huge deal about it.)

-Employee, Boston Consulting Group–Seattle

To schedule an LGBTQ workplace inclusion training, click here or contact me directly at @kelseypachaconsulting.com! I look forward to partnering with you.

Click here to schedule a training!

[1] James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. The National Center for Transgender Equality.

[2] Russell, Stephen, et. al. “Chosen Name Use is Linked to Reduce Depressive Symptoms, Suicidal Ideation and Behavior among Transgender Youth,” J Adolesc Health. 2018 October ; 63(4): 503–505

[3] Badgett, et. al., The Business Impact of LGBT-Supportive Work Policies; Williams Institute, May 2013.

[4] Human Rights Campaign, The Cost of Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion: Why the Workplace Environment for LGBT People Matters for Employers, 2014.

[5] Fair Employment and Housing Council Regulations Regarding Transgender Identity and Expression, California Code of Regulations Title 2, Div. 4.1, Ch. 5, Subchap. 2, Art. 5, §11030-34 (2017).