· 2 min read · Features

Hot topic: Do employers need to take a stand on pronouns? Part one

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Declaring pronouns at work has become more common, yet banking group Halifax received plenty of public backlash when it announced employees could wear name badges which included preferred pronouns.

In response to the public, the bank said: “We strive for inclusion, equality and quite simply in doing what’s right. If you disagree with our values, you’re welcome to close your account.”

So, should companies take a stand and be proactive when it comes to pronouns? Or is a more measured approach needed?


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Megan Reitz, professor of leadership and dialogue, Hult International Business School

The seemingly golden age when companies could simply stick to their knitting and leave the outside world to take care of itself has gone.

Employees, potential employees, regulators, journalists, investors, activists and customers expect a company to have a point of view about how it fits with what is going on in the wider world – even if that point of view is to sit on the fence.

There is an unmanageable expectation and capacity for people inside and outside organisations to come together around issues that really matter to them.

At the same time, the 24-hour rolling news agenda can put a company on the media naughty step at a moment’s notice. Issues that may or may not have been on the corporate agenda are suddenly ones you are expected to have a position on. Where do you stand on the Uighurs? Pronouns? Roe versus Wade?

Running a successful business is difficult enough without being a social commentator and a moral philosopher – but that is what is being asked of leaders.

 

Mark Grimley, group director for people and corporate services, Government of Jersey

Halifax and those in the banking industry who supported their action should be applauded. Where people wish to use their pronouns, there should be no barrier. What it shows is an inclusive and open culture.

I use my pronouns at work, not because I feel I must, more because I want other people to know they can do so. I have had employees comment positively on this and shared their pronouns, where before they were not confident.

While the inclusion of pronouns should be welcomed and encouraged, the conversation often turns to the degrees of wokery and political correctness. This is because the objective and meaning is not fully understood or explained and the polarisation of arguments is unhelpful.

As with any social equality, education and visibility is important. It’s hard to see why people are offended by understanding someone better.

But offence is taken, through lack of understanding. A lack of understanding leads to offence. Visibility and awareness is important, and over time pronouns will become normalised.

 

Check back tomorrow for part two of this hot topic.

This article was first published in the July/August 2022 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.