Perfecting Pronouns. Getting the terminology for sex and gender variables right

At the start of this year the Australia Bureau of Statistics released their updates ‘Sex, Gender, Variations of Sex Characteristics and Sexual Orientation Variables, 2020 (“2020 Standard”)’. This replaces the 2016 Standards.  It updates sex and gender variables, as well as the introduction of variables for variations of sex characteristics and sexual orientation. The updated standards are well received across LGBTQ+ communities.

Whilst we won’t see all of these updates reflected in things like the Census this year; it is a start and a way to continue to raise awareness and educate.

These standards help organisations looking for guidance on how to update their systems and surveys when it comes to collecting this type of information. Standardisation of how we collect data allows for comparisons between workplaces and the broader Australian population. Allowing people to select a gender that aligns to their own, such as non-binary (neither man or woman) or agender (without gender), means that people feel seen and aligned to their organisation values.

Systems that allow for self-identification are one thing but building trust is another. If people do not feel safe sharing their identify and experiences, then we won’t capture data that is truly inclusive. Visible inclusive symbols are key to building that trust.

On most days you will probably notice us wearing a rainbow tie, a rainbow or trans flag pin. We all know the importance of visible signs of allyship and whilst I am an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, I am also an ally to those whose identities are different to mine. Those small things can be big indications to other LGBTQ+ people that I am an ally, a friend, a safe person to speak to.

So, when COVID 19 saw us all connecting more and more online, it became even more important to make sure those visible signs of inclusion where there no matter how people are engaging with me.

Displaying pronouns in things like email signatures might seem insignificant, but it isn’t – it shows others what I see as important.  It tells them that I am aware you may not use the same pronouns as me.  By displaying mine it shows that if you let me know what your pronouns are then I’m going to respect them and use them appropriately. Imagine how you would feel if you identified as male and people constantly referred to you as “she”.

It’s important that we don’t assume someone’s pronouns. But how are we supposed to use pronouns if we don’t know what they are? There’s sure-fire way to make sure you got it right every time – the solution is simply to ask.

Allies often ask what can I do to show that I am supportive or how can I be better at inclusive language? Sharing your own pronouns and asking others what they are is one of the easiest ways to create safety and inclusion for others. The next step is to make sure you use them. Practice makes perfect!

If you are wondering where to start here are some suggestions:

  • Add your pronouns to your email signature. (she/ her, he / him, they / them – and yes this can be singular)
  • On Zoom and other platforms, you can edit your screen name to include your pronouns. That way everyone on the call can see what you use.
  • When you are introducing yourself (virtually or in person), consider adding your pronouns in. e.g. “My name is Sarah and my pronouns are she/her. As you introduce yourself please feel free to include your pronouns or share your pronouns in the chat”.

The more we talk about pronouns, the more it normalises these conversations for our family, friends and colleagues who may be worried about sharing the pronouns they use or getting it wrong with others.



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