Why we invite but don’t require staff to share pronouns
Respecting people’s identities and cultivating a culture where everyone is encouraged and empowered to refer to people respectfully—according to each person’s gender identity—helps make our workplace at Dr. Bronner’s, and ultimately society, more inclusive.
It’s important to distinguish between sex and gender. Sex is assigned at birth. Gender is how a person identifies and it transcends societal expectations, social conditioning, and labels of masculinity and femininity. Gender identity exists on a broad spectrum and reflects individual and internal experience. One’s gender identity may not match the sex one was assigned at birth. A person’s gender identity is also different from their sexual orientation.
Personal names and pronouns are two ways gender is expressed and perceived. Gender pronouns like she/her and he/him, or assumptions of who these apply to, do not fit everyone’s gender identity. The words people use to describe themselves and others are very important. The right terms can affirm identities and challenge discriminatory attitudes. The wrong ones can disempower, demean, and reinforce exclusion. Although he/her/their are among the more commonly used gender pronouns, many other pronouns exist!
Examples of gender pronouns
*Additional alternate spellings for “ze” are “zie,” “sie,” “xie,” and “xe.” Chart by Emma Stern, The Bethesda Project
We believe pronoun sharing can be an important practice and one tactic and tool in the interest of normalizing inclusion across the gender spectrum. If we listen intently, take note consistently, and dedicate ourselves to remembering the correct pronouns of our colleagues, we can practice and model how to respectfully refer to people in the third person.
We cannot assume a person’s gender based on their appearance. Pronoun sharing is one way to create spaces where consent rather than assumption is a central driver of the ways we relate to each other and speak about one another.
There is no one way to look or be cisgender or to look or be transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming.
One intent of pronoun sharing for cisgender people is to signal or signpost to people that a space or dialogue is respectful of sharing pronouns and inclusive to transgender and non-binary people. For transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people, specifically, while pronoun sharing is also in the interest of cultivating inclusivity generally, it can be more personal and often a necessary way of making others aware of what pronouns a person consents to be referred to by.
Pronoun sharing is not a one size fits all practice. As much as its promoted as a form of allyship, it can be harmful and cause discomfort for those people the practice purports to be inclusive of. Meredith Boe gives one example in the article Allyship 101: What’s the point of pronouns in email signatures?
“One Ask a Manager reader wrote to the publication recently that they are actually still figuring out their pronouns and how they want to be referred to. Receiving word that their company wanted them to include their pronouns only made them feel uncomfortable. They wrote, ‘my relationship to gender is ambivalent at best, and I find being asked to discuss such a fraught, deeply personal topic at work distressing.’”
For this reason and many others pronoun sharing should be optional and voluntary. Oliver L. Haimson and Lee Airton expound on this in their article for the National Center for Institutional Diversity at Michigan University:
“Pronoun sharing is about respect: by engaging in pronoun go-rounds, and by using people’s correct pronouns, we signal to people in a group setting that each person’s gender is valid and deserving of respect. Yet respecting people also involves understanding that gender pronouns are sensitive information for some people and that some will not be comfortable disclosing their gender pronouns to a group of strangers or colleagues. Respecting each person’s choice to disclose or not disclose sensitive information about their personal identity means that, while pronoun go-rounds are important and necessary in many group settings, pronoun sharing must be optional, not mandatory.”
For cisgender people especially, proactively sharing pronouns must accompany a rigorous commitment to remember and use the correct pronouns of colleagues, if this is not done—the result can be that a cisgender person signposted that it was safe to disclose pronouns, only to not have them respected after all. In a case like this pronoun sharing becomes a performative act that benefits the interest of the most privileged in helping them to appear progressive, while actual harm is done.
It is important to acknowledge that it is easier for cisgender people to share their pronouns. Cisgender people face considerably less risk, consequences, and stigma than transgender and non-binary people. Thus, pronoun sharing can be yet another form of exercising cisgender privilege; it is important to remember that what may seem simple or easy to some people—such as signposting pronouns—can be complex and difficult for other people. We ask our cisgender staff members to keep this in mind.
In closing: you may notice pronoun sharing in the signatures of some of our employees, and that its absent from the signatures of others. This inconsistency is in the interest of consent and comfort. We hope the above helps you understand why we support this practice and why it’s an optional and not a mandatory practice.
To be an All-One company is to be proactively in support of people of all identities to live with dignity, respect, access to resources enabling them to thrive in life, and the support of their colleagues and communities. To be All-One is to support transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people!
For we are All-One or None. All-One!
- Making space for them, her, him, and ‘prefer not to disclose’ in group settings: Why pronoun-sharing is important but must remain optional
- Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon
- Gender: Your Guide by Lee Airton
- Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law by Dean Spade
See further reading suggestions, here.