When I was a wee little boy (before I hit a growth spurt that ended at 6’3), one of my favorite questions to be asked by educators was “How do you pronounce your name? I don’t want to butcher it.”
You see, with a name like “Tomás,” many would confuse it for the American pronunciation of “Thomas.” Until I began getting asked that question, I never corrected anyone and even conformed to the generic “Tom,” (which I’ll answer to occasionally) erasing my Latinx roots just to accommodate others’ lack of effort.
Today, employers make sure that pronouncing my name correctly is the first thing they get right, to show how much they respect and value me as an employee. What does this tell you?
The baseline for valuing employees starts with respecting their identity.
Identity doesn’t stop at one’s name. It’s an umbrella compiled of multiple traits. And one of the most important is pronouns.
Just like you wouldn’t assume a woman with a round belly is pregnant, you can’t assume everyone in the workplace’s gender identity matches their biological sex.
Inclusion starts with leading by example, which is why management should include their pronouns in email signatures, LinkedIn profiles, business cards, etc. This initiates a domino effect that opens a window for others to follow, and eventually reaches the employees who might not be comfortable voicing their pronouns for fear of discrimination.
By making this simple step, employers leave the door open for their employees to participate, which avoids the risk of outing employees who aren’t ready to disclose this information. At Action Mary, we’ve taken a step forward in offering employees the option to include pronouns in our new business cards. The freedom to choose sends a powerful message about company values. Other companies should do the same, whether it be He/Him, She/Her, They/Them, Ze/Zir, or any other(s) that an employee chooses.
Look at it this way. The average American works 44 hours a week. That means in a five-day work week people are spending more than a third of their time in the office. If an individual is spending close to the same amount of time that they would at home in a given space, they should feel just, if not more at home in the latter space.
We must do better as a workforce to build community. It’s as simple as acknowledging that people exist. And it’s acknowledging that we are all human, with unique identities and perspectives.
Pronouns aren’t a preference, they aren’t like a nick name. They are a non-negotiable part of a person’s identity.
So, I leave it to the management of every workplace to take action and add pronouns to their internal and external signatures. Your participation could lead to a ripple effect that will make an employee feel like they made the right decision when signing that offer letter.