Promoting inclusion through pronouns

25 Nov 2020
Author: Andrea Twaddle

Outwardly, New Zealand promotes itself as having a relatively progressive, open and inclusive culture. However, the reality for many New Zealanders, particularly those in minority groups, is that they experience significant discrimination and bias in their everyday lives. Experiences in employment are no different.

New Zealanders identifying as transgender and non-binary have unemployment rates significantly above the national rate.  They also report serious concerns of bullying and exclusion at work, resulting in protective steps such as being more likely to conceal aspects of their personal identity.

There are legal obligations on all workplaces to create a safe and healthy place to work, free of bullying, harassment and discrimination. However, gender identity is not an expressly prohibited ground of discrimination in the Human Rights Act or Employment Relations Act. That doesn’t mean that behaviour which could be considered unreasonable is acceptable. It’s up to us all to promote inclusion and embrace diversity. Including gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination in your workplace policies can assist in dealing with this kind of misconduct in the workplace.

In terms of practical steps that can be taken at work, small changes can make a big difference. This can include the use of pronouns, sending a message of inclusion and respect. Pronouns are words used to refer to people, for example she/her, he/him or they/them.  

Normalising the use of pronouns enables referring to a person with the correct term, which is more likely to affect transgender and non-binary people. It helps to break down stereotypes. 

Gender-neutral pronouns (them/they) are increasingly being used by default. This is a shift in language for those who have historically used them/they indicating plurality. However, a simple discussion about respecting the gender spectrum can easily bring people up to speed.

Other simple steps to consider are:

  • Include pronouns in sign offs and/or profiles;
  • Respect a person’s pronouns when referring to them;
  • Don’t make assumptions;
  • Apologise and acknowledge if you make a mistake;
  • Be an active ally when others are sharing their name and pronoun;
  • Avoid words that are gender exclusive, for example using ‘police officer’ not ‘police man’, and ‘Chair’ not ‘Chairman’.

Being gender inclusive in our language is one way in which we can be respectful, promote gender equality, and celebrate diversity at work.  

The specialist employment law team at DTI Lawyers can assist you with developing workplace terms, policies and practices to foster a safe, healthy, diverse and inclusive workplace. You can contact our team on 07 282 0174.

Promoting inclusion through pronouns
About the Author
Andrea Twaddle
Andrea is an experienced specialist employment lawyer and Director at DTI Lawyers. She advises on contentious and non-contentious employment law issues, including privacy, and health and safety matters. Andrea is AWI-CH qualified, and undertakes complex workplace investigations. She is a member of the national Law Society Employment Law Reform Committee, a former Council Member at the WBOP District Branch of the Law Society, and Coordinator of the WBOP Employment Law Committee. Andrea is a sought-after commentator and speaker on employment law issues at client and industry seminars. She provides specialist, strategic advice to other lawyers, professional advisors and leadership teams. You can contact Andrea at