Gender pronouns: Building a culture of authentic identity expression

Natasha Cowan, Corporate Communications Manager | 20 October 2021

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At Fishawack Health, this International Pronouns Day we’re highlighting our pledge to ensure every member of Fishawack Health can work in a safe, respectful environment where they are referred to by the pronouns they determine for themselves. Find out why we’re making this pledge and what it means to our team members.

He, she, him, her, they, them, ze, zie,  – these are simple words, but they are integral to how we identify ourselves and others. Under the surface, these words carry power: the power to enable a person to be who they truly are and the power to trigger feelings of anxiety, depression, and despair.

As a cis-gendered person – a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their sex at birth – it can be easy to feel like pronouns aren’t that important. If your gender happens to match up to the sex you were assigned to at birth, you may have never felt the trauma of being misgendered. However, personal pronouns often imply gender, and assuming an individual’s pronoun can be harmful – it sends the message that a name or the way a person looks equates to their gender.

Research shows that misgendering an individual leads to feelings of stigmatization and psychological distress. When a person is misgendered repeatedly, it can impact their mental health significantly.

Referring to a person using correct pronouns is easy to do. It can make a real difference to ensuring the individual feels safe, secure, seen, respected, and included.

Shige Sakurai, a transgender person of color, social justice leader, professor, consultant, and creator of MyPronouns.org (an excellent educational resource providing a wealth of information on pronouns), writes: “Just as it can be offensive or even harassing to make up a nickname for someone and call them that nickname against their will, it can be offensive or harassing to guess at someone’s pronouns and refer to them using those pronouns if that is not how that person wants to be known. Or, worse, actively choosing to ignore the pronouns someone has stated that they go by could imply the oppressive notion that intersex, transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people do not or should not exist.”

How we’re supporting our team members at Fishawack Health

In the United States, a recent study revealed that 47% of transgender employees experienced discriminatory behavior at work daily, including transphobic remarks, being ignored, or feeling pressured to act in a traditionally gendered way. As a result, those surveyed felt continuously ‘on guard’ and were left regularly emotionally exhausted.

At Fishawack Health, we are committed to building an inclusive culture and creating an environment where all our employees feel safe and thrive. Following our recent initiatives to educate our Fishawack Health community on gender expression, we are rolling out a tool that enables all our team members to add their pronouns to their email signatures. The move comes as part of our broader diversity and inclusion strategy, which also includes continuing to provide space for further dialogues between our team members and subject matter experts.

Rachel Harper, Senior Project Manager and member of our Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) team explains: “The world can be dangerous for those who do not identify with the majority. To be an inclusive culture, we must be diligent about providing a safe and welcoming workplace for everyone.

“The signature tool allows for fewer instances of misgendering or using the wrong pronouns, especially as we are so virtual and do more work cross-culturally. It’s part of creating a safe and inclusive workplace that values all gender identities instead of assuming them.”

“Becoming a workplace that is more literate and educated on issues facing the LGBTQ+ community will ultimately improve life for every employee,” Imogen Coupe, Account Executive, continues.

“People will become more conscious of microaggressions and assumptions or discrimination relating to gender. I personally include she/her pronouns in my email signature. It’s important because you can signal that you are an ally, and normalizes people being able to share their pronouns and for them to be respected at work.”

“It’s a simple step for everyone to take that normalizes the conversation about pronouns and gender identity,” adds Mike Ferrell, Director of Business Operations.

The goal of the signature tool is to remove any anxiety our team members might feel about either declaring their pronouns or asking others about their pronouns. Instead, we can all choose to easily tell people how to refer to us in our email signatures. Although participation is not compulsory, all employees will be given access to the tool to both normalize the conversation and demonstrate allyship.

Consultant Leah Carlisle leads our D&I educational initiatives. She explains, “This is a topic that is relevant to every single person. “The more we can build people’s understanding around these topics, the more people can learn about and feel comfortable in themselves, and the more people can understand each other. Intersectionality is critical, and gender is one component that makes up a part of every person’s identity and can be the subject of a lot of stigma and discrimination, so it cannot be forgotten.

“Sharing our pronouns can help to create an increasingly open environment where team members feel that putting their identity out there is not only acceptable but encouraged and supported by the people around them at work. This can help to reduce the stigma around talking about pronouns and gender identity more broadly, and overall should improve inclusiveness in our culture.”

Teresa Bradley, Senior Project Manager, is leading our pronouns project and rolling out the signature tool alongside Sally Hogue, Senior Learning and Development Strategist. Teresa reveals: “I believe we as colleagues do our best work when we come as our authentic selves. Creating an environment of authenticity requires a safe community of compassion and trust. Developing a deeper understanding of our fellow humans by educating ourselves on gender identity and the sexual orientation spectrum helps build that community. Sharing my pronouns is my small contribution towards the effort of normalizing these conversations. I also hope that the inclusion of my pronouns in my signature will serve as a small public indicator that I am an ally if someone needs one.”

To learn more about the importance of pronouns, visit mypronouns.org

Find out more about our commitment to building an inclusive environment for our LGBTQ+ team members here

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