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Lexi Croswell, author

Lexi Croswell

Writer, Culture Amp

Creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace isn't easy to get right, but we shouldn't let perfection be the enemy of good. One step organizations are taking to promote inclusivity is enabling conversations about people’s gender pronouns.

Personal gender pronouns are often referred to as ‘PGP’s - or, more simply, gender pronouns. According to GLSEN, “There has been a shift away from the term ‘preferred gender pronoun’ or ‘PGP’ to using ‘pronoun.’ This change was made because a person’s pronouns are not just preferred ... They're the pronouns that must be used.”

Gender pronouns are words that an individual would like others to use when talking to or about them. The most commonly used pronouns are “he, him, his” and “she, her, hers.” People who are transgender, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming may choose to use pronouns that don't conform to binary male/female gender categorizations, such as "they, them, theirs."

Steven Huang, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Culture Amp, explains:

“Starting the conversation at an organizational level about understanding and using people's correct gender pronouns helps ensure an inclusive culture where all voices are given equitable power.”

Why are gender pronouns important - in and out of the workplace?

If a person has never had to worry about which pronoun others use to refer to them, gender pronouns might not seem important. Steven continues, “For most, their singular and visible gender identity is a privilege. Not everybody has this privilege; those that are referred to with the wrong pronoun can feel disrespected, invalidated, and alienated.”

You can't always tell what someone's gender pronouns are by looking at them. Asking for, remembering, and using someone's gender pronouns is a positive way to support the people you work with.

The table below provides examples of gender pronouns from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual Resource Center at UC Davis.

Table depicting nine types of gender pronouns.

How do I ask someone what their gender pronoun is?

As part of an introduction or icebreaker at work, you can say, “Tell us your name, your role, and if you’re comfortable, your gender pronoun.” You might hear gender-neutral pronouns like “they, them, theirs.” In other cases, people may prefer that you simply use their name. In a one-on-one conversation, the best way to ask is with a straightforward: “What are your gender pronouns?” or “Can you remind me of which pronouns you like for yourself?”

What happens if I use the wrong gender pronoun for someone?

If you realize it at the moment, correct yourself. Apologize and restate the correct pronoun, as in, “Sorry, I meant she.” If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private. Don't dwell on your mistake - it's not productive. Steven explains, “It is inappropriate to make the person feel awkward and responsible for comforting you.” In other words, it's your job to remember and respect someone’s gender pronouns. The best apology is to be better in the future.

How companies can promote inclusion through gender pronouns

Screenshot of gender pronouns being shared in an e-mail signature.

An easy way for companies to introduce gender pronouns into the conversation is to include them in email signatures. This action serves not only as a reminder internally but also builds awareness externally.

Steven explains why he has added gender pronouns to his email signature, “Most people have not been questioned about their gender identity. This is a simple way to show that I care about and respect the people in that minority who are questioned about their gender identity. It’s also an acknowledgment of my privilege.”

Of course, gender pronouns can also be included in other areas, such as:

And if you're an individual whose company currently does not ask for people's gender pronouns, you can be the one to start the conversation. A small, easy way to get started is - you guessed it - adding your gender pronoun to your e-mail signature, LinkedIn profile, etc.

Taking inclusion one step at a time

Adding gender pronouns to your company email signature is a great first step to building gender inclusivity in the workplace. It brings awareness to something that many people might not have thought about before. Moreover, it could springboard a discussion on gender pronouns that further educates people on why it’s an important part of people’s identity that should be respected. There's always more work to be done when it comes to inclusivity, but the most difficult obstacle is getting started.

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