In the past six months, my organization has approved the optional inclusion of pronouns in email signatures. I learned that one of my team members uses non-binary pronouns. In my written communication and conversation about that team member, I now use those pronouns, but I notice that no one else has made the adjustment. How can I, as the supervisor of this team, resolve this situation?
I feel like the longer I wait to deal with it, the more disrespectful and complicit I am. I can’t control people’s language, but I would call someone for other kind of behavior that I interpreted as disrespectful. (For what it’s worth, I don’t suspect anyone has been intentionally disrespectful by not using their co-workers’ favorite pronouns.) The non-binary co-worker didn’t tell me this is a problem, but I have to assume it’s disdainful feels. I feel I owe them an apology, but what I really owe them is better leadership. What would you do?
Thanks for asking this question. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and part of that is using proper people pronouns. You’re already doing a lot of what you should by always using your team member’s pronouns in all communications. I would start by sending a memo to your entire team to remind them of the importance of referring to people using the correct pronouns. Don’t pick your non-binary team member because frankly this is a matter of courtesy and applies to everyone.
You can also meet privately with your team member to let them know that you are aware of the issue and are working to address it. Ask if there’s anything you can do to improve their experience at work, but don’t ask them how they can solve the general problem you’re dealing with, because it’s not their problem to solve. I am confident that you will lead your team in a caring and considerate manner.
When you’re here, you’re family
For the past four years I have been a director of a small electronics company. Although I am treated well and most of all enjoy my job, I would like to change, so I applied confidentially and applied for new positions. From the beginning of my time at this company, the CEO has been very warm and socially open and has organized many events involving colleagues and their families. My wife and I got to know the CEO’s wife and teenage children, and I’ve even taken advantage of this atmosphere to arrange temporary work for some of my relatives. In the past year, the CEO started referring to the company as a “family,” even referring to a recently hired employee who fell in love with us.
Recently, the CEO told me that he felt betrayed by a former employee who left after due notice, but without first telling him he was on an interview. He made it very clear that he expected “relatives” to tell him when they were interviewing.
I expect to be successful in my job search in the coming months, and since I don’t have an employment contract, like most American workers, I’m free to leave or be terminated at any time. In the past, I’ve handled these transitions by giving appropriate notice after accepting a new offer, completing my responsibilities, usually attending a farewell at a local bar or restaurant, and staying on good terms. I want to avoid any ugliness when I quit, so I’m wondering how to communicate with the CEO for the rest of my time at this company.
It’s not because your CEO thinks your company is a family. Your job is your job and your family is your family. I like a collegial workplace where people feel valued and respected and where people can interact outside of work. That’s ideal and should be the norm, although it isn’t. But professional collegiality still isn’t family, and it shouldn’t be. When employers suggest that the business is a family, they are trying to collect your emotional investment so that you overlook everything else. When it comes time for layoffs, I can assure you that the word ‘family’ will disappear from corporate language.
Your CEO is behaving very unprofessionally. If he feels betrayed when an employee gives the proper notice and moves to a new position, that’s a personal issue he needs to resolve with a therapist. This bizarre emotional transference he forces on his staff is inappropriate. You don’t need to let your employer know that you’re looking for a new job, because unfortunately, far too many employers will retaliate upon hearing such news. For now, communicate with the CEO as you normally do, as you have nothing to report. Continue your job search, and when you have found a new job, give it up generously, participate generously in any transition work that needs to be done, and move forward with a clear conscience.
The Case of the Misspelled Name
My name is Alisha. It is often misspelled and pronounced in my daily life. However, my name is in my email address at work and some of my colleagues still can’t get it right. I want to correct them when I get an email that starts with ‘Hi Alicia’ but I feel petty so I just let it go. Is there a proper way to correct someone who constantly misspells your name at work?
— Alisha, Rhode Island
I can relate so much. My name is spelled with an n. It is constantly misspelled. It’s annoying the way small things are annoying, that is, I have the necessary perspective. When someone misspells my name in an email, I sign my email Roxane (with one n) so that the correction is there, but not the center of the correspondence. If you receive an email with your name misspelled, please sign your name correctly with a bracket of your choice for the correct spelling. I find it easiest to follow the line of standing up for myself and my name, while also realizing that the constant misspelling of my name, in the grand scheme of things, is a minor annoyance.
Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write her down workfriend.†