There’s a reason why June is Pride Month. It commemorates the Stonewall Uprising, which began on June 28, 1969, and was a display of activism that serves as a key moment in the history of the LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement.
As we strive to make our workplace more accepting and inclusive, Walker Sands participated in an agency-wide book club to read, “How to They/Them: A Visual Guide to Nonbinary Pronouns and the World of Gender Fluidity” by Stuart Getty. Both informative and humorous, “How to They/Them” unpacks the ins and outs of they/them pronouns and provides a clear guide to gender nonconformity.
We invited Stuart Getty to join us for a discussion about “How to They/Them,” the motivation behind writing it, and actionable items we can take with us to make progressive changes in our personal and professional lives. Here are some key takeaways from the discussion.
1. The inspiration behind “How to They/Them”
Throughout their career as a creative director and copywriter, Stuart learned that storytelling holds the power to enact change. “How to They/Them” was created to move the needle on changing minds and hearts, while also validating and empowering people that use they/them pronouns.
Stuart aimed to create a book that people could give to others as a resource to help them better understand gender identity. When Stuart was growing up, the language surrounding gender identity was limited; now, their book helps introduce people to the inclusive language we use today.
In “How to They/Them,” Stuart discusses pronouns openly and candidly to impart information that might be awkward or uncomfortable for some. During the discussion, Stuart said that while gender identity has become political in our country, joy and laughter can put people at ease when discussing the topic.
Stuart also incorporated a relaxed tone in their book because they knew people can be afraid to do or say the wrong thing when it comes to gender identity. They used humor to create an accessible invitation for anyone to join the conversion.
2. Understanding and using neutral pronouns
In “How to They/Them,” Stuart explains that neutral pronouns are commonly used because they are words that are already part of our language. However, some people struggle to adopt they/them pronouns because they feel using the word “they” to refer to one person is grammatically incorrect. Stuart explained that if people practice using they/them pronouns, the brain can create new neural pathways, making the use of neutral pronouns a habit. Essentially, practice makes perfect. But Stuart reminded us to have grace with ourselves when we make a mistake.
If you make a mistake concerning another person’s pronouns, Stuart shared that the best thing to do is fix the mistake quickly, know that you have good intentions and then move on while remembering that everyone messes up sometimes. Asking people their pronouns is a good thing — although it can feel scary, it’s important to avoid making assumptions. Taking the time to acknowledge someone’s pronouns is a way to show that you value them.
3. Challenging privilege and creating open spaces in the workplace
It’s important to recognize privilege as we work to create an inclusive workplace. In their book, Stuart mentions the privilege of being able to openly express identity. For example, a cis-person would likely feel comfortable sharing their gender or name when filling out paperwork for a new job.
Stuart provided several examples of how to create an accepting environment and reduce bias. For instance, if you don’t know a candidate’s pronouns during the hiring process, you might consider using they/them pronouns to avoid making assumptions about the person. Stuart also shared that when they work with external teams, they send an email introducing their entire team, including a line or two for each person that states their name, job description and pronouns. This practice clarifies how each member of the team will contribute to the project, while also creating an easy way for everyone to share their identity upon first meeting.
At Walker Sands, we encourage everyone to add their pronouns to their email signature and their Slack name. We also added a line at the top of every job description stating that candidates should feel free to note which pronouns they use.
In addition to tips for making employees feel comfortable in the workplace, Stuart talked about the importance of the language we use at work. Language has an impact, and in many ways creates the culture of a workplace. Stuart noted that some companies are trying to stop using the term “guys,” and replace it with more inclusive words. For example, you might address a group of coworkers with “hello everyone,” rather than “hello guys.”
Language is also always evolving. We used to refer to pronouns as “preferred pronouns,” but we do not “prefer” a gender; rather, we are a gender. Making changes like this helps to further validate everyone’s identities.
4. Discussing pronouns with families
When Stuart began writing “How to They/Them,” they were writing it for their mom. But along the way, they started writing the book as a resource for all parents. So while writing the book, Stuart talked to many non-binary kids, parents with non-binary kids and non-binary parents.
When talking to parents, Stuart noticed that parents often want to act as a shield for their child. In many cases, parents express a desire to let their child lead the way in sharing their identity and create a safe space for them to figure out their identity. Stuart agreed that it is important to let people have control over sharing their identity, and reminded everyone that only you can define your identity – no one else.
Stuart also noted that it is helpful for parents to create a safe space for their kids’ friends who are in families who aren’t supportive. It is incredibly validating for kids to have a space outside of their home where they can comfortably be who they are, wear the clothes they want to wear, talk about who they are dating, etc., without being judged. Stuart explained that these kinds of safe spaces are essential for a queer person’s journey to finding themselves.
Thank you, Stuart, for joining us for such an honest and action-driven conversation about how we can be better LGBTQIA+ allies in the workplace. Walker Sands is committed to creating an inclusive, people-first environment, and we are grateful for this opportunity to learn with one another.