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News & Press: Trends in the Profession

How We’re Redefining Gender in the 21st Century

Monday, August 14, 2017  
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Summary: Maddie Foster

The following digest reviews the opinion article “How we’re Redefining Gender in the 21st Century” by Heath Fogg Davis. The summary below provides a brief overview of how the UK and United States are using gender-neutral pronouns and different approaches on how to incorporate inclusive language into an organization’s environment. The full article can be viewed at the following web address: http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/01/opinions/gender-neutral-drivers-license-opinion-davis/index.html.

Article Summary

Multiple nations around the world are beginning to adopt and promote gender-neutral language in personal and professional documentation. For instance, the UK offers the gender-neutral honorific “Mx” to be used on driver’s licenses, bank statements, etc. In the United States, Washington, DC and the state of Oregon offer “X” as an unspecified gender option on driver’s licenses and the state of California has proposed adding a third unspecified gender to birth certificates. However, it took 85 years for “Ms” to be adopted into societal culture alongside “Miss” and “Mrs.” Will “Mx” take as long? And how will corporate culture adapt to this change?

Davis offers suggestions for societal changes to create a more inclusive space for individuals who identify as nonbinary, such as addressing each other by first or last name, which many Millennials have already adopted in their professional careers. Here are three additional approaches to take:

  • Let nonbinary individuals educate: This will should be done on a case-by-case basis when that individual feels comfortable to disclose information.
  • Establish a company norm: Encouraging all individuals to announce their pronouns during meetings as a part of their introduction or add their pronouns to their email signature, can take the focus off of nonbinary individuals and also bring awareness to others of pronoun preference that may not be obvious.
  • Adopt a company-wide gender-neutral pronoun: Companies could require that everyone adopt gender-neutral pronouns in the workplace such as “they, them, and theirs” when corresponding with others in the organization.

Utilizing some of these approaches in the workplace, can take the pressure off of others to guess or assume an individual’s pronouns and provide clear guidelines incorporating inclusive language.

Implications for Career Services Professionals

Inclusive language is becoming a value for many Millennials and Gen Z. Career service professionals will begin to come across this language in emails, on cover letters, during mock interviews and more. Addressing this language with a student would be similar to addressing any other “controversial” professional language or experience. Career counselors can provide a safe environment to help identify an individual’s personal values and discuss those in relation to an organization’s values. When discussing application details and processes with students, values clarification may become a more common and crucial aspect of the conversation.

Implications for Recruiting Professionals and Employers

Embracing strategies mentioned by Davis could make employers more attractive to Millennials and Gen Z through promoting respect of all individuals, regardless of gender identification. Recruiters may see an increase of individuals signing cover letters with a gender-neutral honorific or using gender-neutral pronouns in emails and other forms of communication. During the application and interview process, it could be valuable for a recruiter or interviewer to clarify gender pronouns with each individual at the start of an interview or application process. Establishing and promoting organizational values will attract candidates who share those values and facilitate a seamless fit with the company culture.

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