Creating a culture that embraces diversity, promotes equity and inclusion is critical to a company’s success. It provides a sense of belonging to the employees and encourages them to bring their authentic self to work, leading to higher engagement and boosting employee morale. Over the last few years, many employers have implemented diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) programs emphasizing a work force that includes a wide variety of individuals based on race, gender, and sexual orientation, among other demographics.
In order to build an equitable culture, it is important to meet the needs of your diverse workforce. It starts with understanding the unique needs of your employees and addressing them with careful consideration. Part of meeting an individual’s unique needs is using the correct pronoun to address them.
A pronoun is used instead of a noun or a noun phrase. Gender pronouns such as “he/him/his” and “she/her/hers” refer to people that you are talking about. Gender pronouns are the way that we constantly refer to each other’s gender identity—except we often don’t think a whole lot about them.
Usually we interpret or “read” a person’s gender based on their outward appearance and expression, and “assign” a pronoun. But our reading may not be a correct interpretation of the person’s gender identity. Because gender identity is internal—an internal sense of one’s own gender—we don’t necessarily know a person’s correct gender pronoun by looking at them.
Additionally, a person may identify as genderfluid or genderqueer and may not identify along the binary of either male or female (e.g., “him” or “her”). Some people identify as both masculine and feminine, or neither. A genderqueer or non-binary identified person may prefer a gender-neutral pronoun such as “they/them.”
Using the pronouns employees prefer is more than common courtesy; it helps avoid discrimination claims. Federal law on the subject is based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which expressly prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The US Supreme Court has held that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex also bans any employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Many states also explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination laws.
To create an inclusive workplace, you need to start by educating yourself on this topic. In addition, you may want to incorporate the following:
Implementing a DEI&B program requires commitment from the leadership team. Educating and emphasizing the correct use of pronouns supports DE&I initiatives and reinforces a culture of belonging in the workplace. Implementing the best practices above and starting the conversations are key steps to creating a high performing culture that embraces diversity and promotes a sense of belonging.
We encourage you to join TriNet’s DEI Series and familiarize yourself with this very crucial topic.
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