Ep 169 – Inclusion and the Use of Gender-Neutral Pronouns in the Workplace

inclusion and the use of gender neutral pronouns in the workplace

As a society, we have grown up with the use of certain pronouns to use that refer to a person based on a male/female and using a singular/plural framework. However, this is changing, and a growing number of individuals are asking to be referred to not in the way in which we have grown up with, but in a way that lacks a gender identity. Chances are in your role in HR and as a business leader, you have or will be encountering a situation where an employee, candidate, or someone you know requests to be referred to in this way. Today we are talking about inclusion and the use of gender-neutral pronouns in the workplace.

Before we introduce our guest, I want to thank our sponsor, ClearCompany.

Episode 169: Inclusion and the Use of Gender-Neutral Pronouns in the Workplace with Christine Assaf (@HRTact)

My guest today is Christine Assaf. She’s a seasoned HR Generalist who currently hangs her hat at Waste Management. Christine shares with us a topic that I believe is one that is important and a scenario in workplaces that is more commonplace and will continue to be so. Christine shares her own experience as a parent to a child who has asked their family to be referred to using gender-neutral pronouns. Christine walks us through what gender-neutral pronouns are, how they are used, and most importantly how to make employees or candidates comfortable who are asking to be referred to in this way.

What is a Gender-Neutral Pronoun?

A gender neutral or gender inclusive pronoun is a pronoun which does not associate a gender like he or she with the individual who is being discussed. Christine says that in many languages, including English, we don’t have a gender neutral or third gender pronoun available when referring to a generic individual in the third person. This is part of the confusion and uncomfortableness we sometimes experience because we are used to referring to someone in a singular context. However, there are no singular gender-neutral pronoun in the English language. Many persons want to be referred to using they/them.

What Should We Do When Someone Asks to Be Referred to As Gender-Neutral

Christine says that when someone asks to be referred to, we should honor their request. The question she says is how do we implement the change in the office. She suggests working with the individual to understand how they want the announcement to happen and if they would like HR involved and in what ways. The employee making the request should really drive the process. HR is there to support.

The key Christine shares is preparing for this request to occur. She suggests including gender-neutral pronoun training as part of the new manager and annual training. The management should understand that these type of requests will happen, not just by employees, but as with candidates who are part of the hiring process. It’s important to prepare these managers for situations and scenarios and what are the appropriate and acceptable responses.

Christine shares her personal experience, which I love. She also brings up great insights into making the workplace more inclusive for everyone. This doesn’t stop at manager or employee training and should be part of the recruiting process. Starting with gender-neutral job descriptions to help communicate to employees and candidates everyone is welcome and accepted at this company. We’ve included a link to a job description from Bumble that Christine shared as a great guide and resource for employers considering making their job postings and descriptions more inclusive and gender neutral.

I appreciate Christine’s candid conversation sharing her own experiences working in HR, but also as a parent. I feel very strongly on this topic. I want every person to feel welcome and able to bring their best self to work. I know you do too, and that starts with making our workplaces where our people feel like they are included and respected. It also means as HR professionals that we need to help our leaders understand the ways in which we need to help make that happen.

Connect with Christine Assaf.


· Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Gender-Neutral Pronouns

· She? Ze? They? What’s In a Gender Pronoun

· How to Respectfully Use Gender Pronouns in the Workplace

· Beyond ‘He’ and ‘She’: The Rise of Non-Binary Pronouns

· Gender-Neutral Job Posting From Bumble 

· U.S. Airlines Plan to Offer Non-Binary Option to Boarding Passes 

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*A special thank you to my production team at Total Picture Radio.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell is the founder of Workology, a digital resource that reaches more than a half million HR and workplace leaders each month and host of the Workology Podcast. Jessica lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, daughter, and an assortment of furry family members.


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