“Words have power”. Inclusion etiquette through language in the workplace.
HANDS ON TIPS BY KRISTIN RANKIN, FOUNDER OF DRESSCODE PROJECT
Part 1: Ideas for creating an inclusive workplace
As an employer, leader, or manager in the room it is important to recognize that taking initiative around inclusive language in the workplace starts with you. Using open and inclusive language in meetings, conferences and company emails is a way to visibly show your employees that you are practicing inclusivity as well.
Greeting groups of people: “GUYS” is the new 4 letter word. What I mean when I say this is it has become almost automatic that when greeting a group of people we say something like “hey guys”. This is a very exclusive way to greet people, because traditionally “guys” is referring to only one gender in the workplace. A much more inclusive way is by using open and inclusive words when greeting groups. For example, using the words “everyone”, “folks”, “all” etc. This is language that will include everyone not only people who identify within the binary. For example, “To all the employees of our company, we wish and hope that you will have a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones - sincerely, management”.
Greeting individuals: When you are greeting someone at the workplace, and you don’t know how they identify it is best to use non-gendered adjectives. So instead of saying “hey there Mrs, miss, or Ms., you can say “hey there Mary …”. Using someone’s name is the best way to greet and address them until you are sure of how they identify.
Understanding pronouns is an important tool in a modern-day workplace. And knowing how to use them is even more important. I always live by the following rule: if I don’t know how someone identifies or what pronouns they use I will always address them by their name until I know. And the best way to know is by offering up your own first. This shows the person that you have an understanding of inclusivity and are an ally. An example of how to do this is the following “hey my name is Kristin, and my pronouns are they/them, may I ask what pronouns you use?”.
Never assume someone’s pronouns. Far too often a lot of folks who identify outside of the gender binary are stealth, meaning they pass as a straight-looking person. This is just another reason why it is so important to find out how someone identifies before you make any assumptions.
As important as it is to know how to use pronouns it is also important to understand how to be corrected if you use someone’s pronouns incorrectly. In other words, if you misgender a coworker or employee. The best thing you can do is follow these three easy steps 1. Apologize 2. Correct yourself 3. Move on. Be swift and courteous around this correction. Don’t linger in your apology. By lingering in your apology, you are only making yourself feel better while singling out the person who you misgendered. Example: You accidentally misgender Mary by calling Mary ‘Her’. Mary has already made it clear to you that Mary uses they/them pronouns. Here’s how to correct yourself. “Sorry Mary, I mean them …”and continue on with the topic/conversation at hand.
Pitfalls around questions & compliments
Asking someone about their significant other. This world traditionally and historically has been geared towards and made for heteronormativity. Meaning we acknowledge people as straight until told otherwise. But you should never assume that someone has a husband or a wife because of their gender or how they identify. So, if you really feel the need to know the best way to ask is by saying something inclusive like this “do you have a partner?”
Never ever question how a coworker identifies. If a coworker trusts you enough to tell you their gender identity it is your job as an ally and a coworker to respect that. What that means is that from the moment they tell you their identity, and the pronouns that they use it is your job from that point on to respect, practice and use those pronouns and refer to their gender as they have asked you to.
Here is a really good rule for the workplace: If you wouldn’t ask a cis gender man about something don’t ask anyone else. For example, one of your coworkers has let you know that they are non-binary. Don’t start asking them questions about how they identify or why. It is a personal choice and the very fact that they have trusted you enough to tell you about their identity is all that matters. If this person continues to trust you, they will casually and naturally through getting to know each other tell you more about their life. But asking them personal questions about what it means to be a non-binary person, or anything else around their identity can be perceived as offensive. Would you ask a cis gender man why he identifies a straight? No, you wouldn’t.
Try to avoid micro aggressions. Micro aggressions are statements that we say to a person within a marginalized group of people because you think it is a compliment. When in fact it is not a compliment at all. It is usually actually something that is very offensive and can be borderline discriminatory. For example, saying to someone who is transgender “Wow, you’re beautiful. I would have never known you used to be a man”. Even if you mean well, you are more likely to hurt them. Ask your 2SLGBTQ+ colleagues what micro aggressions they have experienced to learn more and how to avoid them.