Declaring pronouns at work has become more common, yet banking group Halifax received plenty of public
backlash when it announced employees could wear name badges which included preferred pronouns.
In response to the public, the bank said: “We strive for inclusion, equality and quite simply in doing what’s right. If you disagree with our values, you’re welcome to close your account.”
So, should companies take a stand and be proactive when it comes to pronouns? Or is a more measured approach needed?
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Michelle Reid, people and operations director, Institute of Occupational Medicine
I don’t think the Halifax story is an issue of pronouns, it is an issue of verbalised bias and poor PR and customer engagement.
Organisations, of course, have a choice about what they do, or don’t, they always have. As have the people who choose to work with them, or not as the case may be.
As with pronouns, I feel it’s a personal choice whether to display or not and organisations can choose to facilitate that in whatever way they deem most appropriate. The important thing is to make a choice, be clear on the purpose and then move forward positively.
In Halifax’s case, it received a complaint which it handled in the way it saw fit and, unfortunately, that was done publicly and in a way that caused other customers to leave. The company has to live with that and work on a PR recovery plan.
Gemma Dale, lecturer, Liverpool John Moores University
On the face of it, this looks like a fairly simple, well-intentioned policy that can support inclusion. However, the practice is more complicated that it might appear.
Firstly, not everyone will want to share their pronouns. There may be many reasons for this. Some people may actually disagree with the practice on principle.
It may also be problematic for some of the very groups that the practice aims to support. For example, someone who is experiencing gender dysphoria or who is questioning their gender identity may not feel they are ready to state a public pronoun.
For those who are considering transition but are not ready to share this fact may feel compelled to state a pronoun which is different to their gender identity.
In the Halifax case, it appears that employees were given a choice whether to include pronouns on their badges. This is a reasonable approach for employers to take. However, no one should feel under pressure to state their pronouns at work if they do not want to.
Check out part one of this hot topic here.
This article was first published in the July/August 2022 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.