Say My Name
In 2012, actress Quvenzhané Wallis made history as the youngest actress to be nominated for an Academy Award. She was just five years old when she appeared in the highly acclaimed film Beast of the Southern Wild. She also made history for her response to a reporter’s question on the Oscars red carpet. Quvenzhané had starred as the title character in the film Annie. When a reporter decided that saying “Quvenzhané” was too difficult, she told the young actress, “I’m just going to call you Annie.” Quvenzhané stopped the reporter and said, “My name is not Annie. It’s Quvenzhané.” In her statement, Quvenzhané exerted her personhood and her identity.
People have also started expressing their personhood and identity by asking that others use their preferred pronouns. You may have seen people asking to be referred to as “he/him/his” or “she/her/hers” or “they” or “one” or some other variation. Some don’t want any identification –just say my name. The use of preferred pronouns has become a hot topic with more transgender employees feeling comfortable expressing their gender identity at work. While this can leave some employers confused on how to respond, employers shouldn’t avoid this topic.
It’s easy to imagine an employee suspecting discrimination or harassment if a supervisor willfully refuses to use the employee’s preferred pronouns. An employer may also think that using an employee’s preferred pronouns isn’t important or is potentially disruptive. While there is no blueprint for how employers should address these topics, a company’s employment policies should always be rooted in respect. Employment policies not only establish acceptable levels of conduct, they also help advance the company’s culture. This is a valuable discussion and companies shouldn’t be afraid to have it.