Using the right pronouns: an interview with Andy Hind
Chief Diversity Officer Antoine Andrews interviews ERG leader Andy Hind about why using the right pronouns is so important and how to be more inclusive.
Like anyone in my field, I understand the power of words. I’ve seen—and personally experienced—what can happen when words are weaponized to attack people of a certain identity, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to address that.
Using the right pronouns for people that don’t identify with one of society’s strict cisgender gender norms is the flip side of that idea. It shows respect, instead of disrespect. When we use correct pronouns, we’re showing that we support that person expressing their own true identity—which should be a basic right for everybody.
But unlike slurs or hate speech, which come from malice, failing to use the right pronouns is often a question of ignorance or simple force of habit. I’m ashamed to admit that I even struggle with it myself when I’m preoccupied or moving fast, which isn’t an excuse. It’s really important to me that I stop doing that—and it’s one of the top things that I’ve committed to improving about myself this year.
I recently sat down with Andy Hind, a talent acquisition manager and member of the Queerious (our LGBTQIA+ employee resource group) whose pronouns are they/them to talk about why it’s so important to get it right.
Andrews: Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me, Andy. I know this is an important and deeply personal topic for you. If you’re comfortable sharing, I’d like to start by hearing more about your personal journey and your perspective on why pronouns are so impactful.
Hind: We all have pronouns. We all use pronouns. Those identifiers match your gender identity and expression. She is at the store. He went to get gas. These could identify anyone in your life—friend, family member, colleague. When you misgender someone, you are voiding their existence. It means you don’t see them or respect them.
I started using they/them pronouns by default. There aren’t a ton of options that resonated with me as a trans nonbinary person. The binary he/him and she/her weren’t an option and the other options - ze and xe - also didn’t feel right. Gender is a nebula, not a spectrum. My gender identity is as unique as the stars in the sky but we live in a world of labels, so I needed to find one that felt safe to use.
If you identify yourself as a man and everyone around you starts calling you she/her, it becomes hurtful. As our world evolves, so do we. The binary man/woman doesn’t reflect who we are anymore.
Andrews: That totally makes sense. When I think about pronouns as an expression of identity, I can completely understand why having someone disregard your pronoun would feel like a rejection of your own understanding of who you are.
Would you mind sharing a little bit about your experience when someone misgenders you?
Hind: Being misgendered honestly feels like a punch to the stomach. It has taken me years to get to where I am, and I work hard at taking care of myself. Because my physical appearance is more traditionally masculine, everyone assumes I’m a man. Customer service calls, hotels, grocery stores— I’m always addressed as ‘sir’.
It hurts so much. My default reaction is to tell them not to call me “sir.” It is amazing how awkward things get after that—even for me. In professional settings, I still often stay silent because I’m uncomfortable speaking up. It takes so much energy correcting people who misgender you. I sometimes need allies to step up for me. Other times I’ll send a note in slack reminding my colleagues to use gender neutral terms for me.
Andrews: That’s incredibly powerful to hear. I can imagine that would be absolutely exhausting—and painful.
I can also see why having allies around would be really important. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by conscientious, mindful people who tell me if I speak thoughtlessly. I really think it’s important for leaders to have people like that around them at all times—people who will be on the lookout for unintentional aggressions and, importantly, won’t be afraid to speak up if/when they happen. Leaders need to let their colleagues know that they’re open to that kind of feedback, especially when so much feeling is on the line. Many don’t.
The next step now is for me to become the outspoken ally on the lookout for misgendering. Is there anything specific that you recommend allies do when they witness someone being misgendered?
Hind: Personally I think it depends on the situation! If you’re with a group of friends and someone is misgendered, say something immediately. Something simple like—“oh, so and so actually identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns”.
In a more formal setting, calling someone in after the meeting might go over a little better. For example, at the end of the meeting, reach out to the individual in a 1:1 message and talk to them about what happened. Calling them out during the meeting might make them more uncomfortable or react negatively to the feedback.
The most important thing is to do something. Staying silent means you are okay with your friend/colleague being misgendered.
Andrews: Such an important responsibility. It also makes me think about what to do if you yourself are the one who has done the misgendering. In that case, speaking out is important too. A mistake is a mistake, but you need to call it out if you catch it. That shows the person that you’ve misgendered that you see them, and that you care about making amends.
Hind: Yes! Exactly. Everyone messes up sometimes; we’re all so culturally conditioned to think of gender as just a man or woman. But we need to recognize our mistakes and address them.
Andrews: Do you have any advice for folks who are trying to be more inclusive, generally?
Hind: Sure! First, until someone tells you what pronouns to use when speaking to them, practice using gender neutral language so you are being inclusive of everyone. Even those you haven’t met. Introduce yourself using pronouns to create a safe space for others to use their pronouns.
The best way to start incorporating gender inclusive language in your everyday life is to practice using gender neutral language. As you walk down the street, do your shopping or watch a movie, say things like: “I really like their hat or sunglasses,” or “They’re doing a great job in that role!” Instead of assuming a person's gender by how they look, using gender neutral language allows for you to practice inclusion.
I have some friends who are even raising their child without a gender, using neutral pronouns for them until they grow old enough to weigh in and rejecting stereotypical norms when it comes to clothing and toys.
Andrews: That's great! I like your point about practicing; it’s all about creating new habits and norms. I’ve noticed that familiarizing yourself with the LGBTQIA+ community can also go a long way toward mindfulness. Watching movies or reading books or articles by folks who identify as queer makes inclusive language more second-nature. That’s something I have been making an effort to do.
Hind: That’s a great point. So many things that are biased or offensive are rooted in unfamiliarity. At the end of the day, it boils down to trying your best, keeping yourself educated, and looking out for others. Little actions can mean the world.
It can be easy to slip into socially conditioned language habits. As I mentioned earlier, it’s something that even I, a Chief Diversity Officer, have struggled with before. That’s part of the reason I wanted to have this conversation. We are all on a learning journey, and it’s important to recognize change only happens when are intentional about our growth and development
In recent Momentive research, 80% of transgender employees said people at work misgender them sometimes by accident, and 17% said they think other employees misgender them on purpose. We must be intentional about decreasing and ultimately eliminating this from happening.
It’s up to leaders to hold ourselves accountable and actively fight for a more inclusive work environment. We need to train ourselves and others to treat our LGBTQIA+ peers with respect and thoughtfulness by recognizing their true identities. People like Andy are helping establish a braver, more authentic workplace. I’m grateful to have the chance to learn from them. But I also know that it’s up to all of us to pick up the torch—to become the educators and advocates ourselves. This pride month, I challenge you to do so. I know I will.