Berkeley Lab

Why Gender Pronouns Matter, and How to Get Them Right

 

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As part of ATAP’s strategy to Increase Awareness, Increase Actions and Increase Accountability of IDEA values, for this issue of the newsletter we are sharing with you “Why Gender Pronouns Matter, and How to Get Them Right?”

Nothing may be more personal than the words people use to refer to us through our names and pronouns. They are essential to how our identity is communicated to the outside world.

Traditionally, many languages use gender binary pronouns and suffixes; for example, “she/her/hers” for women and “he/him/his” for men. However, this binary reference of gender is no longer adequate to describe the broadening nomenclature of gender identities and expressions in use today.

Correctly using someone’s preferred gender identity using appropriate pronouns shows respect and basic courtesy. And, whether intentional or not, using an incorrect pronoun for someone can be hurtful and irritating. Some may feel it may convey the message that they don’t matter or deserve respect.  

While most people usually interpret a person’s gender based on their outward appearance and assign a binary pronoun such as “her” or “him,” because gender identity is internal and not visible, this reading may be an incorrect interpretation of someone’s gender identity.

Although gender identity for many people corresponds to that assigned to them at birth (cisgender) and they may identify as female or male, many people do not. For example, transgender people may have a gender identity that doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth, and many nonbinary people don’t identify strictly as either female or male.

Misgendering someone can be embarrassing for both parties, create tension, lead to a breakdown in communications, and has the potential to negatively impact the effectiveness of an individual and a team. In a situation where a person’s pronoun is not indicated or is unknown, gender-neutral pronouns such as “they/them/their” can provide a useful and respectful option.

Below are some suggestions for creating opportunities when using gender pronouns to foster an inclusive workplace environment and culture.

Opportunities for fostering an inclusive work environment and culture. (Credit: Berkeley Lab IDEA team)