Gender identity and expression are deeply personal matters.
As outlined by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, gender identity refers to a person’s “internal and individual experience of gender.” This applies to whether a person identifies as being a woman, man, both, neither or anywhere within the gender spectrum. This can change throughout one’s life, meaning that a person’s gender identity may be different from what they were assigned at birth.
Gender expression refers to how a person may choose to publicly express or present their gender. This can include one’s outward appearance such as clothing, hair or make-up, and behaviour such as body language and voice. One common way someone may choose to express their gender is through their pronouns and chosen name. By using a person's pronouns, you demonstrate that you affirm and respect their identity.
For individuals with diverse gender identities and gender expressions, support includes respecting the pronouns and terminology they use to describe themselves and their identity. It’s important to remember that people don't have "preferred" pronouns, they are simply pronouns. To say that they are “preferred” implies that a person’s gender is just a preference.
In line with Ryerson's commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion, employees have the right to indicate which pronouns they use for themselves. Some employees may use she/her/hers or he/him/his, while others may not fit squarely into a male-female binary, and may use they/their/theirs or another version.
Never assume what pronoun a person uses just by looking at them. When you meet someone, take the time to listen first to how they refer to themselves. You can also start by introducing yourself with your pronouns: “Hi, I’m <insert name> and I use the pronouns <she/her/hers, he/him/his or they/their/theirs>.”
By sharing your own pronouns, people have the option to share theirs without your needing to ask them directly. If the person you’re speaking to is comfortable sharing their pronouns, use them when referring to them. Leading by example will encourage others to do the same. If the person doesn’t share their pronouns with you, refer to them by name or use “they.”
For individuals with diverse gender identities and gender expressions, being misgendered can feel disrespectful and invalidating; it reinforces exclusion. Moreover, according to the Ontario Human Rights Code, misgendering is considered a form of discrimination. Respecting people’s pronouns builds safety and inclusion.
Including your pronouns not only reminds people that they shouldn’t make assumptions about anyone’s gender identity, it demonstrates your willingness to use someone’s pronouns.
If you are comfortable with sharing your pronouns, proactively adding them to your email signature can help normalize the practice across the board. Many individuals with diverse gender identities and gender expressions aren’t able to be publicly out in their communities and workplaces, meaning they have to deal with being misgendered on an ongoing basis. They may not be able to easily share their true pronouns without negative repercussions.
Including your pronouns not only reminds people that they shouldn’t make assumptions about anyone’s gender identity, it demonstrates your willingness to use someone’s pronouns. In doing so, it can help make employees with diverse gender identities and gender expressions more comfortable in identifying their pronouns to you, should and when they choose to.
Overall, pronoun inclusion is a small way to support individuals with diverse gender identities and gender expressions on a daily basis. By adopting this practice, you can contribute to a more inclusive and safe workplace for all.