We made a simple but necessary change at spur: this month.
We added pronouns (she/her, he/him, they/their) to our email signatures:
This took us all of five minutes to implement, and was a no-brainer in the context of our work in the social change sector. We did this in recognition of the broad spectrum of people involved in our organisation: our internal team, as well as our clients and collaborative partnerships.
While logistically small, this change represents our commitment to a world that is fair, sustainable, and well. It is something that we can, and should, all be doing to promote gender inclusive workplace practices around the world.
Instances of discrimination and harassment are commonplace for Australian LGBTQIA+* (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual+) employees. Transgender and gender diverse people face misgendering on a daily basis. Misgendering occurs when someone refers to or relates to a transgender or gender diverse person with language that does not align with their identity.
Only 2 out 5 people in Australia said they would choose to use the correct pronouns for transgender people.
Meanwhile 30% of transgender Australian workers reported being fired, denied a promotion, or experienced some form of discrimination due to their gender identity.
In a professional setting, misgendering invalidates and disrespects a person’s identity. It is exclusionary and a barrier to employment, career progression, and a safe work environment.
In Queensland, Australia, deliberate and consistent misgendering may be indirect discrimination.
In Queensland in 2018, a Parliamentary Committee heard submissions for the Anti-Discrimination (Right to use Gender-Specific Language) Amendment Bill 2018. This bill would practically mean that an employer could not sanction an employee who continued to deliberately misgender a colleague (an actual example given with the proposed legislation).
The Committee recommended that the bill not be passed. And at the time of writing this, it has not. Still, an unsettling glimpse at the opposition to gender-inclusive language in Australia.
However, there is also a growing network of allied support for gender-inclusive language in the workplace. Facebook and Twitter are on-board to introduce more gender-inclusive language into their workplaces — for their employees, and customers. So are Australian organisations such as the Victorian Government, Qantas, the Australian Defence Force, Deakin University and RMIT.
One beauty of the LGBTQIA+ community is, of course, our diversity and intersectionality — which means each person’s experience and identity is intensely personal and, most importantly, nobody else’s business.
But for transgender and gender diverse people in the workplace simply sending an email, joining a Slack thread, or conference call can be fraught with anxiety.
The stress of having to constantly come out. To correct.
The burden of having to constantly educate peers.
It “others” and tokenises transgender and gender diverse people.
Consider that the average office worker sends 40 work emails per day. Can you imagine having to explain something as intensely personal as your gender identity, every time you sent an email?
If people use the pronouns and language that align with your identity when talking to you or about you, in person or online, you experience privilege. If you haven’t had experience of being misgendered, you may think email signatures aren’t relevant to you. That couldn’t be more wrong. Use your privilege.
Practices that normalise pronoun use are not passing trends. They are our collective responsibility.
If you experience this privilege, being open about your pronouns in a workplace does not pose risk as it does for transgender and gender diverse people. It is easy, and costs you nothing.
Those who do not face discrimination or termination must foster a workplace culture in which those who can are those who do - for the benefit of those whose privilege is not as free.
Ultimately, these practices are fundamentally about the importance of language. This is not an attempt to do-away with gender specific pronouns, nor is it “political correctness gone mad” — it’s a shift in the language we use in order to foster inclusive workplaces. Pronouns are as fundamental to our identity as our names. Language matters.
For those who are new to these concepts, or aren’t sure how to go about it — the good news is that it’s quite simple: including pronouns in email signatures is a simple but powerful action we can all take.
It’s a good move for a number of reasons:
Through this small step, you stand in solidarity for a safe workplace for a colleague, a vacation student, your supplier, a new client.
There is still a long way to go. While this practice is by no means an exhaustive solution to institutional and systemic discrimination experienced by transgender and gender diverse people — it is a start.
Here is an example template for including pronouns in email signatures. For firms looking to make this company-wide policy, make sure this practice is an option, but is not mandatory, as you would otherwise “out” people.
Accompany this option with inclusivity and sensitivity training. Consider the language you use when framing it to the workplace. Best practice is moving away from saying ‘preferred’ pronouns — they are not a preference. Language matters.
“Hi, my name is Olivia, my pronouns are she/her.’
2. If you a manage or organise events, allow for pronouns on name tags.
3. Add pronouns to company directories or communication profiles (Slack, LinkedIn, Monday etc)
And if you’re not sure — ask.
This is an ongoing commitment from the spur: team. Practices that normalise pronoun use are not passing trends. They are our collective responsibility.
LGBTQIA+* — We use this this initialism intentionally to reflect the spectrum and intersections of sexuality and gender that individuals experience.
Victorian Government Language Guide
ACON's Pride Inclusion Program