By Jason White, Manager of Strategic Initiatives
Before starting any communications project – written, video, presentation, social media, etc. – I think about the audience and how to connect with them. I ask myself questions about who they are, what are they are looking for, what is their motivation and how do I motivative them, because all good communications boils down to knowing your audience and understanding how they will decode (understand) your message. I do this exercise every day, so imagine my surprise when I did not follow my own advice.
In the ASP diversity and inclusion training, we are encouraged to add preferred gender pronouns in our email signatures. Until recently, I resisted this. I did not have any reason or justification for not having my preferred pronoun listed; it just felt strange. However, this is not good communication, and it was time to practice what I preached.
After reading several blogs and articles and listening to a few podcasts on gender pronouns, one podcast really resonated with me. It featured a non-binary person who was asked: “What do you say to someone who is hesitant about using a preferred gender pronoun?”
Their response was, and I am paraphrasing, “accommodating a person’s preferred gender pronoun can make a huge difference to that person, while it really has very little impact on you. You’re just using words to make someone feel included.”
Put that way, I added he/him to my email signature. If I am honest, there are times when I find using preferred genders awkward, but I that is my issue – my feelings have nothing to do with my audience. My job is to connect with people, whether they be a he, she, or them.
Gender identity and gender expression are on a spectrum, so from a communications perspective, we want to acknowledge and accept the differences so we can better understand how our message will be received and decoded.
Simply put, including pronouns in your email signature and social media profiles improves your communications.
For more information on using appropriate gender terminology, check out the Government of Canada’s Inclusionary – a dictionary of gender-inclusive words and phrases. It was designed to provide writers, editors and translators with a starting point for writing inclusively in English, in accordance with the techniques outlined in the Guidelines for Inclusive Writing.
Not everyone will agree with all the solutions provided in the Inclusionary. Some solutions may not apply in certain contexts. For example, the Inclusionary provides alternatives to gendered terms for family members.
Of course, these gendered terms (“mother,” “father,” etc.) are perfectly appropriate in many contexts and don’t need to be consistently avoided.
The gender-inclusive alternatives aren’t meant to be used in every context, but rather in those contexts where the gender of the person referred to is non-binary or is unknown. You must therefore exercise judgment in applying the proposed solutions.