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Empowered Leaders Speaking The Right Inclusive Language

Written by: Santarvis Brown, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


It really says something about an empowered leader who engages with preferred pronouns. At work, gender pronouns provide a clear way for leaders to communicate how a person needs to be addressed or referred to in conversation and communication. As a leader, it is important to respect everyone and treat all employees equally. Gender pronouns are one of the most potent ways to show your support and respect for all employees.

Group photo inside the office with company staff showing thumbs up.

A person’s pronouns convey their gender identity. And because of this, a person’s pronouns are personal and important to who they are. Below is a list of common gender pronouns, but there are dozens, including the last on the list below: name only. Simply, rather than a gender pronoun, some people want to be addressed by name only.

  • He/him/his (masculine)

  • She/her/hers (feminine)

  • They/them/theirs (neutral)

  • Ze/zir/zirs (neutral)

  • Ze/hir/hirs (neutral)

  • Name only

In previous articles, I have discussed the importance of inclusion and respect as an empowered leader. Remember, empowered leaders convey integrity, empathy, and vision, inspire others, and, importantly, are clear communicators. And as I think about a person’s pronouns, I find it an imperative and effective way to show respect for all employees.

How leaders can make a difference in understanding a person’s pronouns

Using someone’s self-defined pronouns respects a person’s identity. Not everyone in the workplace knows or even understands the varying pronouns. That’s why as a leader, it is important to lead by example.

Below is guidance on what you, as a leader, can do to make a difference in the workplace.

Mistakes happen

It is inevitable that you will make a mistake and refer to someone with the wrong pronoun. If it happens, apologize, correct yourself, and move on.

Gentle correction

If you hear another leader or employee use an incorrect pronoun, don’t be afraid to gently correct that person.

Don’t assume a person’s gender identity

Gender identity is considered fluid. That means that a person’s gender identity may change over time. In initial meetings, it is okay to ask a person if they have pronouns that the person identifies with. Also, remember that not everyone identifies with a set of pronouns, and some people prefer only to be addressed by their name.

In a group setting avoid gender-specific pronouns

If you are in a group setting, such as a meeting or conference call, avoid gender-specific terms such as guys or ladies. Using neutral terms such as people or folks is preferred.

Practice gender-neutral pronouns

One way to avoid mistakes is to practice using gender-neutral pronouns as often as possible. The recommendation is to use gender-neutral pronouns until you know which pronouns a person identifies with. Then use the identifying pronouns.

Effective leaders stress a workplace that is inclusive and respectful to everyone. Understanding a person’s pronouns will help you to better understand the people you work with, show respect, and help to create an empowered workplace.

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Santarvis Brown, Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Santarvis Brown has spent 15+ years serving as a leader, innovator, and changemaker in education, showcasing in-depth insight as an administrator, educator, and program director. A noted speaker, researcher, and full professor, he has lent his speaking talent to many community and educational forums, serving as a keynote speaker. He has also penned several publications tackling issues in civic service, faith, leadership, and education.



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