I am a division leader for a family-owned manufacturing company. The family members have somewhat antiquated views and are not particularly socially sensitive. My challenge is how to respond to the pronouns I’m seeing on recent email. For example, I am now seeing She/Her or He/Him on email signatures and video conference meetings with people outside of our company. One of my peers in our industry in another company just put xe/xem on xer email (which is correct usage).
My question is this: as a manager, should I add pronouns on my communications to make it safe for my team members to do so also? I have one person on my team who I think would appreciate it, but what about other people who might roll their eyes and see it as a political statement?
What is my responsibility with this issue?
She, He, Xe, Ze, What?
Dear She, He, Xe, Ze, What?
I appreciate your sensitivity to something that seems like a new wrinkle for you. People who are members of or who know and love members of the LGBTQ community have a head start on this trend. And it is very much a work in progress, as is all human evolution.
Your responsibility is to your own leadership values and to your organization’s values, in that order. (If you’ve never thought about your leadership values, a process to do that can be found here.) It is possible that, antiquated as it may be, your company does have stated values. If your desire to role model inclusion flies directly in the face of your company’s stated values, you are going to be in for some pushback. You may even already know that the stated values are pure lip service and that the real but implicit values are another thing altogether. Eye rolling notwithstanding, the real challenge will come when you get a cease-and-desist order from above. I hate to say that you might find yourself well served by dusting off your LinkedIn profile and resume. You will know based on your experience in the organization.
If you feel that it is part of your job as a leader to role model fairness and inclusion, then that is where your responsibility lies. But let’s not kid ourselves—it takes an awful lot of courage to stand by your values and standards for yourself. Not everyone is cut out for the fight. You need to make a conscious choice about just what you are signing up for. Maybe your answer is “Yes, that is what I need to do, but not right this minute; I will get my ducks in a row, educate myself, make a plan, and go for it at some future date.” Or you may decide it is not your fight to fight. I am not judging, but that doesn’t mean that others aren’t.
Some thoughts if you do decide to take the next step:
- Would you be comfortable contacting your peer who is already using the pronouns to ask if they might be willing to talk to you about their experience and point of view on the topic? Call me crazy, but I think if people are putting it out there, they are probably open to talking about it.
- You could speak with each of your team members individually or as a group. Maybe start with just introducing the topic, sharing some questions, and inviting conversation. Not everyone will want to speak up, and that’s okay. Focus on creating an environment of curiosity and openness vs. driving for definitive answers and positions. Many folks are in the exploration stage of this topic, so if your team can explore together, wouldn’t that be grand!
- One of my colleagues puts her pronouns on her email signature and provides a link to information for people who are mystified right next to it, like this: Pronouns: She/Her (learn more). This is a cool way to join the conversation while also inviting others to be curious.
It seems that pretty much everything can be interpreted as a political statement these days. We could allow the current climate to shut us down and crawl into a safe little hole—and again, I wouldn’t blame you; things are complex enough. But because you care enough to ask, I suspect you are a person who also cares about the experience that others not like you are having in the world. All I can say is that you will have to let your heart be your guide.
It is quite a can of worms, isn’t it? But you are clearly aware and thoughtful. I trust you will find your way to the right thing for you, right now.
About the Author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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