Why pronouns are important

International Pronouns Day, which falls on the third Wednesday of October each year, aims to make it an everyday occurrence for people to educate themselves about, and respect, people’s personal pronouns.

While for many cis-gendered people pronouns will be “he/him” or “she/her” depending on which gender you were born – but this is not the case for everyone.

Some people do not identify with their gender assigned at birth, so using preferred pronouns can be especially important for trans or non-binary people to feel accepted for who they are.

At Computer Weekly’s annual diversity in tech event, supported by Spinks, several keynote speakers highlighted ways people can support under-represented groups in tech. This list of speakers included Alfredo Carpineti, founder and chair of Pride in STEM, who said: “We are all born in the same world that has imposed biases of certain people being better than others, and we need to challenge those within ourselves first.”

So why is it helpful, for example, to add your pronouns to email signatures and the like, even if you’re cis-gendered?

Carpineti pointed out: “Pronouns in emails make us know that you’re an ally, that you’re learning.”

It’s been widely discussed that promoting an inclusive culture in workplaces makes for more innovative teams, and therefore more profitable businesses.

Developing that inclusive culture means creating a work environment where everyone feels they are safe to show up to work and be themselves, that they are not going to be judged for it, abused because of it, or made to feel uncomfortable being who they are.

Using people’s preferred pronouns can be a way to do this, and as Pips Bunce, director and head of global markets, core engineering and integration components at Credit Suisse, explained at Computer Weekly’s event: “It’s about respecting someone’s identity, it’s about respecting their heritage and respecting who they are and what they are.”

Having this respect applies to other aspects of people’s lives as well – when it comes to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which has been thrust into the public eye as a result of the murder of George Floyd in the US, you don’t have to be black to be an ally of the cause.

“Someone from outside a given group showing their support and allyship I think is even more powerful,” Bunce pointed out.

“They don’t have to be from that group to care.”

Some people might even become part of a minority group as time goes on, said Ashanti Bentil-Dhue, co-founder of Diversity Ally, who pointed out some people may become mothers later in life, or who were born able-bodied but later become disabled.

Bentil-Dhue claimed everyone has a “responsibility” to learn about and support others “regardless of how we self-identify or how other people perceive and view us”.

“As human beings we will occupy several identities at different stages in our life at different times,” Bentil-Dhue said.

“That is why it is a personal responsibility for all of us to respect each other.”

One of the themes of the day at Computer Weekly’s 2020 D&I event was that allies need to be prepared to be uncomfortable when learning about and supporting under-represented groups.

“You might not use the right words all the time,” said Edleen John, director of international relations and corporate affairs, and co-partner for equity, diversity and inclusion at the Football Association.

“If you don’t know what the right thing is to say, let’s be open and ask.”

When it comes to supporting people around you, John pointed out there’s “power in numbers” so if you’re in a majority group, showing support for others means things are more likely to change for the better.

Starting with actions such as asking people’s pronouns and adding your own pronouns to email signatures are such a small change for you that can make such a huge difference to someone else and their sense of belonging.

 

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