A Change in Pronouns and Gender Identity

Today’s blog, by Leah Knibbs, is about pronouns and gender identity.  One of the cool things about being in a profession for a long time is the changes you see over time. Sometimes these changes are hard-fought and contentious to adapt. Sometimes after the hard-fought change, many little changes occur. These little changes solidify our shift in thoughts and behaviours. Most importantly, they bring change to the general public and soon become the norm.

How we use pronouns to be inclusive is a change that has come as a result of many hard-fought changes in our society. I am proud to witness and support this change. I am happy to be corrected, to learn, and share what I have learned.   Sometimes I do need to be corrected. It’s a little difficult because I am changing a behaviour I have used for a number of years (more than I care to share in this blog).  I want to share some of the learning I had and pass it onto to you. I hope that perhaps this can be of value to your learning.

LGBTQ2-SA+ Pronouns and the Use of THEY

As a consultant, we guide our clients to use language, behaviours, and tools that fit with their culture and the surrounding community.  For a number of years, we have been encouraging clients to use the term “they” rather than he or she.  Clients have a range of reactions to this. We have had everything from an interesting discussion to no discussion at all. Lately, we have had acceptance as the norm.  It is a simple change – using “they.” 

General Greetings

“Ladies, and gentleman,”… how many times have we addressed a crow with that greeting? The intent was to be respectful, but is it still respectful?  Does it support an inclusive culture?  What if someone doesn’t identify with being either a “lady” or a “gentlemen”? What if you are non-binary? Again, it is easy to change our greetings while still being respectful. In our group, the general term we use to address everyone is “hello team.” When giving a formal address, you can use an identifier of the group such as  “Hello Regina” or “Hello HR Professionals.”  Another option is to change the opening totally. For example, use “thank you all for coming to this session” or “thank you all for allowing me to share my thoughts.”  There are a number of ways to address a crowd, be respectful, and be inclusive without assuming there are only two gender identities.

Assumptions based on Visual Cues

I often address a group of women as “ladies.” I do this because I am truly offended when women in the workplace are referred to as “girls.” However, I need to rethink this because I am relying on visual cues about gender identity.  Today, I was reminded that I shouldn’t do this. I shouldn’t make an assumption of gender identity based on what I see.  I was in a virtual meeting, and the participants identified their name and also identified their preferred pronoun.  When I asked about this practice, they shared that doing this helps others to not make assumptions of gender identity based on visual cues. Bingo – where else could we do this? It would be easy to do this on name cards when we get back to a face-to-face meetings. We could do it on business cards. We could do it any place where a name is written.

Gender Identity and New Pronouns

As I was doing a little digging for this blog, I discovered that a number of places are encouraging the use of new pronouns; Ze or Zie.  Ze is used in place of he or she. The variations of this pronoun are zir or zirs (possessive), and zirself.  I have not used these new pronouns but will look for the opportunity to try.  When I use them, I will share why I am using them, as I suspect these will be new terms to those I interact with.   Frankly, I like this pronoun as it is simple, short, and communicates that I mean “one,” rather than using “they,” which can mean one or more than one.  I will admit that this one will take a bit of practice.

All of these are small changes that are not hard to implement.  Small changes with a big impact in creating inclusive workplaces and help broaden the thinking and behaviours of those within the workplace.  As we work to create an inclusive workplace, language is an important part. Please consider your use of pronouns. Please feel free to correct me if I am not correctly using them myself.

Leah Knibbs, BAdmin MBA CPHR CPM CPC

For a list of Saskatchewan LGBTQ2-SA+ organizations, look here.

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