Diversity Dialogue Broadening Business Perspectives

Using Your Employees’ Preferred Pronouns Helps Build Your Firm’s Inclusivity

If you’ve watched The Crown on Netflix, you were likely awed by Emma Corrin’s portrayal of the late Princess Diana. On the heels of that performance, Corrin started a conversation about their personal journey and relationship with gender. They also updated the pronoun section of their social media page to reflect “she/they.” This means that the actor is happy to be referred to as “she” or by the gender-neutral option, “they.”

This is just one example of gender identity pronouns becoming an important discussion in American social, corporate, educational and political spaces. The emergence of this topic has continued to expand even more as businesses and corporations search for ways to increase employee satisfaction and retention efforts, all while ensuring that their employees feel valued and respected within their companies. 

Specifically, many law firms have grown in their understanding of how to support and promote a gender-inclusive culture. Today, most firms have developed and/or implemented a plan to adopt a cohesive and understanding culture. This includes creating policies to support employees, so they feel comfortable presenting their authentic selves at work — and using the correct pronouns when addressing staff and recruits is just the start. 

Nobody likes to be misnamed or misgendered. Referring to someone by an incorrect pronoun may leave a person feeling disrespected, invalidated and even dismissed. This can affect a person’s mental health if they begin to feel stressed and undervalued. Business owners and their managers need to acknowledge the seriousness of using correct pronouns, as their leadership may help others to understand and value others’ identities.

Still, many HR and administrative leaders have reported being confused about the appropriate usage of gender identity pronouns both in and outside of the workplace. If this is a topic that you shy away from because you don’t want to make a mistake or you simply don’t understand the terms, we have provided a short summary of pronoun terms, their definitions and examples so that you can help create an inclusive environment at your law firm.


Employers should try to create opportunities for people to share their pronouns because it’s best not to assume based on their outward appearance. Upon first meeting someone, it’s probably best not to ask a person outright for pronouns because someone may feel like you’re assuming their gender identity. In some cases, it may put someone in a situation where they must out themselves but don’t want to or aren’t ready. Instead, introduce yourself with your pronouns.

For example, say “Hi, I’m Kameelah and my pronouns are she/her.” With this, you’re allowing the other person to share their preferred pronouns if they wish to.

Email signatures are another way to call attention to chosen pronouns. For example: JaNae D. Martin (she/her). Always use someone’s chosen pronouns, unless you have specifically been asked not to (for example, there might be a safety or privacy concern).      

“It can take time to shift the pronouns you use for someone you have known for a long time, but it’s worth the effort. Practice! If you make a mistake, acknowledge it, apologize and move on.”

It can take time to shift the pronouns you use for someone you have known for a long time, but it’s worth the effort. Practice! If you make a mistake, acknowledge it, apologize and move on. Don’t hesitate to correct others gently when they misgender someone.

Please also familiarize yourself with the use of the following pronoun terms and their definitions. It’s up to each individual to decide which pronoun best fits them and their identities:

  • Feminine: She/her/hers. Someone who might identify as female.
  • Masculine: He/him/his. Someone who might identify as male.
  • He/they or she/they (used interchangeably): In some instances, a nonbinary person may tell you they’re comfortable with any pronouns or specifically with she/he/they. That means that the person uses both pronouns, and you can alternate between those when referring to them.
  • They/them/their: This is used as a gender-neutral pronoun.
  • Ze, zir, zirs: The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook notes there are a variety of proposals for gender neutral pronouns. Ze/zir/zirs comes from the transgender community as one example. (Ze is typically pronounced like the letter Z; zir is pronounced like here with a Z.) The AP Stylebook does add that this one is not yet widely used enough and depending on where you include it, it may need an explanation so as not to confuse readers.

When embarking on this journey at your office, it’s enormously important to be open to continuous learning. Everyone makes mistakes, and this holds true for pronouns. On the other hand, making a mistake and then continuing to bring it up or say that it’s hard to remember can make someone feel awkward and like they’re a burden for having pronouns you’re not familiar with. Be OK with making a mistake but also be committed to learning from it. 

Additionally, remember that you should be respectful and inclusive of all employees. Although someone may not identify and use gender identity pronouns themselves, they may support a child, spouse, close family member or friend who does. The more valued, respected and included we make our employees feel, the better it is for the firm’s culture and overall success.