Talking About Pronouns
in the Workplace
What’s in a Pronoun?
Pronouns -- we all use them as part of everyday conversation. A pronoun is a word that refers to either
the people talking (like “I” or “you”) or someone or something that is being talked about (like “she,” “it,”
“them,” and “this”).
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 the “they” (e.g. “I know Sam. They work
in the Accounting Department”).
The Persistence of Gender Norms
Gender norms are persistent and highly enforced across societies. Think about babies coming home
from the hospital where baby boys get blue caps, and baby girls get pink. Individuals that stand outside
of traditional gender norms are highly scrutinized, often becoming fodder for mockery and ridicule. In
the U.S., pop culture images like“It’s Pat,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and Tyler Perry’s “Medea” highlight the
omnipresence of gendered assumptions by displaying characters who buck gender norms as the basis
Transgender activist Riki Wilchins describes the pervasiveness of gender and ongoing enforcement of
gender norms when noting that we never fail to notice the transgression w