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Using correct pronouns leads to a more inclusive workplace, HR urged

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HR teams have an important role to play to make sure that trans and non-binary staff are not discriminated against and that they feel comfortable at their place of work.

With landmark rulings ensuring the protection of gender-fluid employees from discrimination, there has been an uptake on including prefered gender pronouns on name tags and emails.

Agata Nowakowska, area vice president at e-learning company Skillsoft, told HR magazine: “There has been a growing awareness and expression of gender identity over the last decade across media and popular culture, and it’s important that this is translated to the business environment.”

In order to help avoid staff and customers misgender colleagues and employees, name badges that state a person's preferred pronouns have become increasingly more common.

Large companies such as T-Mobile, Tesco and Asda, have all allowed employees to add their preferred pronouns to their name tags.

Jeff Ingold, head of media at LGBT equality charity Stonewall, said that’s a positive sign that more companies are encouraging staff to put their pronouns on their badges or name tags.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Not only does this help everyone get used to talking about pronouns, it helps trans customers and colleagues feel more comfortable. This is because the language we use is important, especially when it comes to describing someone’s identity.

“So when it comes to calling people by the right name, gender and pronoun, all we’re really talking about is basic manners. It’s about letting someone know that you respect who they are.”

Nowakowska added: “To build an inclusive workplace, employers should understand how transgender, non-binary or gender fluid employees may be affected by the use of incorrect pronouns - which can be isolating and exclusive.”

She said that encouraging staff to use preferred pronouns at work is a great way to normalise them, “destabilise gender binaries, and reinforce that we shouldn’t make assumptions around the traditional gendering of a name.”

“It also signals to any prospective customers, clients, or employees that your organisation is making a conscious effort to be more inclusive,” she said.

Nowakowska argued that this effort needs to start with HR.

She added: “Which needs to consider how to embed inclusivity into the function's thinking and behaviour, and by extension, the thoughts, words and deeds of the organisation as a whole.”

Dean Corbett, chief people officer at Avado agreed with Nowakowska that HR is needed to ensure inclusivity in workplaces.

“HR and business leaders need to put people first, proceed with an open mind and make room for the necessary changes that will make your work environment a better and more productive place,” he said.

“People should have the option to articulate their pronouns in a way that makes them feel confident to be themselves.”

Employees often want to improve inclusivity for trans and non-binary people, yet are unsure of how this to do this.

Nowakowska added: “Becoming an ally to transgender, non-binary, and gender fluid employees requires active, consistent, and determined commitment to a process of unlearning and revaluating - in which cisgender colleagues should recognise their privilege to operate in solidarity.

This solidarity will be especially important if customers or other members of staff react negatively to these changes.

She added: “Employers should ensure that employees are supported, protected, and are assured that they will not reverse the decision to recognise their preferred pronouns,” Nowakowska said.

“They should also communicate to those who disagree, that even though they might find change uncomfortable, the discussion is not about them - it’s about the holistic development that is part and parcel of building workplace equality and inclusion.”

Further reading:

Ensuring mentally healthy workplaces for LGBT staff

Creating a trans and gender-friendly workplace

Trans employees in the workplace