Transgender Inclusive Communication
At Mathematica, transgender and non-binary people are an essential part of our community. Our organization is committed to continuously growing its expression of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and a core facet of that commitment is creating a workplace that fully welcomes and respects our transgender and non-binary colleagues. Starting with the practice of using inclusive language, we believe in making progress together toward a future where every person is respected, empowered, and always able to be who they truly are. It’s our pleasure to share the following tips and resources written and curated by members of our Pride Employee Resource Group and Transgender Inclusion Committee.
Intentions and Key Takeaways
This tip sheet aims to provide employees with tools for using language that is inclusive of transgender and nonbinary people. But for any group of colleagues, a first step can be acknowledging that the experiences of transgender staff may vary, and so the suggestions in this guide are not a one-size-fits-all approach. Gender identities are personal and sometimes private, and not everyone is comfortable openly sharing theirs. Please continue to be in communication with your colleagues, to ask for their input when appropriate, and to be respectful of what they need.
- Ensure that you are using the correct pronouns for your colleagues.
- If you are unsure of someone’s pronouns, check available resources (such as someone’s user name on a video conferencing platform, email signature, or your company’s internal staff directory). If you are still unsure, ask them to confirm.
- Use gender-neutral terms when referring to individuals and groups.
- If someone chooses not to share their pronouns, respect their privacy.
- Allies set the tone for an inclusive workplace by sharing their pronouns, correctly using their colleagues' pronouns, and correcting instances of misgendering.
- Following these guidelines will help make your workplace a more inclusive and comfortable space for everyone.
Identity Terms and Resources
Transgender is a term for people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth. “Trans” may be used as shorthand for transgender. Transgender can also be used as an umbrella term for any person whose gender identity is outside of the binary, such as people who are gender fluid or nonbinary.
Here are some ways you can learn more about gender identity:
- Familiarize yourself with this glossary of relevant terms1. Definitions vary across communities and individuals. Respect and mirror the language people use to describe themselves.
- Watch the following videos.
"Trans 101: The Basics" (~8 mins)2
"Trans 101: Being a Trans Ally" (~7 mins)3
Respect Pronouns, Avoid Assumptions
Asking for and correctly using someone’s pronouns is a starting point for displaying respect for their gender identity. Avoid assuming anyone’s gender or pronouns. You cannot know this information by looking at someone, by hearing their voice, or from their name.
People have different feelings about sharing elements of their personal life in the workplace. In some contexts, trans people might be uncomfortable sharing their pronouns. If someone chooses not to share their pronouns, respect their privacy.
Examples of pronouns include the following:4
- She/her—“She wrote that book herself. Those ideas are hers. I like both her and her ideas.”
- He/him—“He wrote that book himself. Those ideas are his. I like both him and his ideas.”
- They/them—“They wrote that book themself. Those ideas are theirs. I like both them and their ideas.”
- Ze/zir—“Ze wrote that book zirself. Those ideas are zirs. I like both zir and zirs ideas.”
- No pronouns—Person requests you only use the person’s name. For example, for someone whose name is Lan, “Lan wrote that book. Those ideas are Lan’s. I like both Lan and Lan’s ideas.”
Set the Tone for Inclusivity
You won’t always know when you’re interacting with transgender people. Introducing yourself with pronouns signals to all colleagues that this is a place where trans people are welcome and are intentionally included. It also reminds everyone not to make assumptions about gender identity. Below are some practices and examples of language you can use to set a respectful, inclusive tone in various work situations.
When working with a colleague for the first time, offer them an opportunity to share their pronouns in your email introduction or in your first meeting. You can also check colleagues’ email signatures and your internal staff directory for pronouns.
Give colleagues a chance to share their pronouns: “Please let me know if there’s anything else you would like to share as we get started (your name pronunciation, pronouns, work hours, or something else).”
Use pronouns in your introductions for all individual and group meetings. Pronoun usage might change over time, and some people might use more than one set of pronouns. Continue to encourage colleagues to share pronouns in introductions at meetings throughout the duration of a project or task cycle.
Start meeting introductions with pronouns: “To kick off the meeting let’s introduce ourselves! I’m Zach, I’m excited to work with you on this project team, I use they/them or he/him.”
Inclusivity is particularly important when interacting with recruitment candidates. Refrain from assuming the pronouns of recruitment candidates, share your pronouns with candidates, and encourage them to do the same. Correct misgendering as appropriate (see “What does it mean to misgender someone?”).
Using the wrong pronouns in advance of meeting a candidate can lead to later use of the wrong pronouns. If you don’t know the candidate’s pronouns, try using the candidate’s name or “the candidate.”
What Does it Mean to Misgender Someone?
Misgendering is when you refer to a person using language that does not align with their gender or their pronouns. When someone is misgendered, they might feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric (or, often, all of the above).
Here are some ways to address and avoid mistakes:
- If you catch yourself misgendering someone or are corrected after misgendering someone, make a brief and discrete apology, correct your pronoun usage, and move forward (for example, “Sorry, their idea about data collection…”)
- If you realize your mistake after the fact, you might want to reach out in private and acknowledge your actions.
- After a mistake, practice saying the correct pronoun aloud (especially for pronouns unfamiliar to you). This website can be useful for practice.
- If you know you made a mistake, but you are unsure of exactly how to use the pronoun, try searching for tips and examples on the Internet or using the resources included in this tip sheet.
- Avoid over-apologizing or drawing more attention to the misgendering. It might make the person you misgendered feel uncomfortable and might also make them feel responsible for your feelings of embarrassment or guilt.
Transgender people’s experiences with and reactions to being misgendered can be varied. Some people might be vocal about correcting those who misgender them, and others might not want to draw attention to the misgendering. Also, some people might be comfortable with other people correcting misgendering on their behalf, while others might not. If you notice a colleague being misgendered, let that colleague correct the misgendering if they choose; don't step in yourself. Likewise, if you notice a colleague being misgendered when they aren’t present, be sure to check with the colleague first before correcting the misgendering. In general, if you’re not sure how your colleagues feel about these issues, ask them, and be respectful of their requests.
Trans people don’t have a responsibility to explain their gender identity or expression
Gender identity and expression are deeply personal, and everyone should have the autonomy to decide when and what personal information gets shared with whom. Imagine, for example, if someone asked about your personal medical history or finances. Questions about an individual’s gender identity, expression, or both are just as inappropriate and intrusive.
Examples of what not to ask include the following:
- Don’t ask “What was your name before you went by _____ ?”
- Don’t ask “Why do you dress like that?”
- Don’t ask “So, have you had surgery yet?”
Ongoing discrimination related to gender identity and expression might also contribute to individual decisions regarding when, where, and with whom someone shares this information.
Be Mindful of Inclusivity and Power Dynamics
Power describes a person’s ability to name or define experiences, to set rules and standards, to make and enforce changes, and to influence decision makers in favor of their cause, issue, or concern. Power can manifest on personal, social, institutional, and structural levels.5 Power dynamics allow varied access to power based on a person’s race, gender, class, sexuality, age, ability, religion, citizenship, or immigration status.6
Power dynamics exist within the workplace. Staff can be in positions of power based on the influence or seniority they have over others, but power gained or lost because of someone’s identities and lived experience might also be relevant. Staff should be aware of the power dynamics that exist in the workplace between colleagues.
Power dynamics might impact inclusivity for trans people at work, who balance advocating for themselves and for inclusivity with concerns that they will be perceived as difficult to work with or combative. It is important to ensure that all staff are given the support to advocate for themselves without fear of penalty or retribution.
Power dynamics in the workplace might impact the ability of trans staff to advocate for themselves or others with the following groups:
- Senior staff or task leaders working with more junior staff
- Supervisors and supervisees
- New staff and established staff
- Recruitment candidates and interview teams
General Inclusive Communication Tips
- Refrain from defaulting to descriptors that end in “-man.” Instead of chairman, use chair, or chairperson.
- Avoid unnecessarily gendered language and ideas (for example, “Hey man, how’s it going?”), particularly if you do not know someone’s gender.
- When you are speaking with someone you know directly and have already discussed pronouns and terms, use any and all gendered terms with which they feel an affinity. When you haven’t had that discussion, default to gender-neutral language.
- When possible, use “they” when referring to people in internal project communications instead of the phrase “he or she.” This allows our communications in emails, meeting agendas, or internal procedures documents to be more inclusive to project staff.
Here are some terms to use when defaulting to gender-neutral language or when referring to people whose gender identity you do not know:
- Folks or everybody, instead of guys, or ladies and gentlemen
- Partner, significant other, or spouse instead of girlfriend or boyfriend, or wife or husband
- Parental leave instead of maternity or paternity leave
- Child instead of son or daughter
- Kid or child instead of boy or girl
- Sibling instead of sister or brother
- Nibling instead of niece or nephew
- Mx. instead of Ms., Miss, Mr., or Mrs., or default to no honorific, if appropriate
For additional ideas for gender-neutral terms, see this graphic.7
Inclusive Practices Benefit Everyone
The use of inclusive language positively impacts the mental health of transgender and non-binary people. According to a recent study of transgender and nonbinary youth, respondents who reported “having their pronouns respected by all or most of the people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected.”
At Mathematica, incorporating practices from this tip sheet into our communications helps our community support the well-being of our trans colleagues and creates an inclusive, comfortable workplace where everyone benefits. Mathematica colleagues with questions or feedback related to this sheet are encouraged to reach out to the Pride Employee Resource Group. For questions or comments about this resource, please email Info@mathematica-mpr.com.
Descriptions of linked resources
- 1Relevant terms. “LGBTQIA+ Glossary of Terms for Health Care Teams.” Definitions for this glossary were developed and reviewed by the National LGBT Health Education Center and other experts in the field of LGBTQIA+ health, as well as adapted from glossaries published by the Safe Zone Project and the UCLA LGBT Resource Center.
- 2“The Basics.” This YouTube video from Minus18 explores being trans and gender identity.
- 3“Being a Trans Ally.” This YouTube video from Minus18 describes ways to be an ally.
- 4Examples of pronouns. MyPronouns.Org is a resource on personal pronouns. The “How” page shows visitors how to use personal pronouns, provides descriptions and examples of different sets of pronouns, and links to more detailed pages about specific pronoun sets.
- 5“Glossary of Race and Ethnicity and DEI terms.”
- 6“Our Shared Language: Social Justice Glossary.” Presented by YWCA.
- 7Graphic. “The Future Is Gender Neutral: Non Binary Words For A Non Binary World” shows how we can create more inclusive language for ourselves and our communities. It provides examples of gender-neutral terms for general communication and for children, parents, and family members.