Active Allyship: Pronouns for Building Belonging

June 21, 2021 Katrina Kibben

You Belong Here

Imagine this. I was sitting in a panel interview for a job. There were three executives and a recruiter seated around the table. I was feeling great. It was my last of three interviews that morning. I was sure if this went well. I was getting an offer this week.

They asked me some standard interview question like, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” At this point, I was feeling terrific about my chances, so I went for the fun answer: “Working for you, Sean.”

I smiled. I was expecting a laugh, but that’s not what happened next. It was as if the air left the room. I think I heard a mini gasp come from one of the executives. The person I referred to as Sean? Not his name, and he was the kind of person who took that very personally. 

“It’s Steven,” he said with a huff. 

“Shit,” I said under my breath. 

Steven, Sean – Who Cares? Pronouns Matter

You’ve been there too, right? Maybe not during an interview, but I know we’ve all messed up a name before. I forget names constantly. I swear, sometimes I look at someone and make the name up in my head. “They look like a Travis.” The worst part? Once my brain locks in on that name, I’ll consistently forget the real one. 

That’s how pronouns work for most people. We look at a person and make up a pronoun based on what we see – usually he or she. That’s how society has conditioned our minds. 

Today, our society is opening its eyes to more identities and trying to build acceptance. The first step? Stop this version of assuming. When we make assumptions and lock into a binary perspective on gender, we’re likely leaving someone out or feeling like they don’t belong. It’s more important than ever to slow down and ask questions before misgendering others.

Allyship Evolving: Activation Steps

Active allyship begins with adjusting our assumptions and continues with small actions of belonging every day that show the people around us that we support and care about them. 

I like to think of each of these as small affirmations: ways to show someone you see and appreciate who they are, even if you don’t identify with that community. 

Here are just a few ways you can build belonging as a manager and colleague this Pride. 

1. Introductions

Instead of assuming, say something like this: “Hi, my name is ___ and I use ____ pronouns. How should I refer to you?” Let people self-identify before you decide what their pronouns are.

2. Meeting Platforms, Email Signatures, and Social Media

When cis-gendered (meaning a person that identifies with the gender given at birth) put their pronouns on profiles –Zoom, Teams, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. – that builds acceptance. People need to see pronouns on profiles to get curious, ask what they mean, and develop their understanding. 

3. Educate Yourself

As companies, we can invest in learning by bringing in speakers to educate our teams about critical issues in the LGBTQIA+ community all year, not just during Pride. You can also learn independently. Watch documentaries like Pride on FX. Read books and follow hashtags and activists online. Learn about workplace laws impacting the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Most importantly? Be open to learning. No one in the queer community, allies, or anyone else, knows everything. We’re all living on a gender spectrum, but we also operate on a range of understanding. If we can commit to learning and evolving just 1% every day, we can build a better world at work and within our communities. 

About the Author

Katrina Kibben

Katrina Kibben is CEO of Three Ears Media.

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