It’s been wonderful over the last few years to see the number of people demonstrating their understanding of gender diversity by adding their preferred pronouns to email signatures, business cards and professional profiles.
6 million people on LinkedIn have added their pronouns to their profiles in the last year alone and we know that approximately 0.4% of the UK population identifies as neither male or female.
Our society is better than binaries. Richer than that. Stepping back from this categorisation, and demonstrating support, not only allows space for those who are certain about their preferred non-binary or alternative identity, but gives them freedom to ‘check out’ of a decision, to change their minds, or to simply say that they don’t want to declare it. It allows the freedom to state that their gender has no (and should not have) any bearing on their professional work.
There is something in the air – a movement towards challenging requests for unnecessary categorisations.
Most organisations exist to support an external party. Universities have their students, media groups have their subscribers, retailers have their customers, city councils have the public living in their area. This is a huge responsibility to promote values in a way that creates positive ripples of change much wider than the walls of the organisation itself.
Organisations who are committed to meaningful equality and diversity goals could benefit from looking outside of the expected places to assess how gender inclusive they are with those they serve and represent.
Looking deeper into gender inclusivity…
On many registration forms, application systems and booking processes, organisations are still asking for marital status titles as a required field. One of the first things still being asked by many organisations seems to be… “Are you married?”
For those identifying as male, choosing ‘Mr’ is a given, and they can continue oblivious.
For every woman who is separated, divorced, widowed, never married or who is married but does not want to be defined by that status, as well as for every single non-binary person, this ‘title’ request is a huge problem.
Despite the title ‘Ms’ being popularised in the mid 1960s and the title ‘Mx’ being used since 1977, there is continued confusion around when to use (and how to pronounce!) both. Many organisations still do not even include ‘Ms’ as an option and so we stand little chance of progressing into a more gender-neutral territory.
‘Mr’ is most often the first option in the limited drop-down list and the only option given to a non-binary person is ‘Dr’, which customer service people often suggest selecting as a solution, with a hopeful smile!
When surveyed by GoTitleFree, one person stated:
“I am no more a Doctor than I am a woman or a man. It’s so frustrating that this is seen as the best way to opt out of stating whether I’m married or not. There is nothing in that little list which represents me.”
Asking a person to state a marital status title in a compulsory drop down list makes a mockery of offering an option to state their pronouns. It makes later questions about gender identity offering a ‘prefer not to say’ option completely pointless. (You’ve already forced them to say!)
Of course, there are many people who are very attached to their title. Many people who adore being a ‘Mrs’, are proud to be ‘Ms’, or who have fought to have a defined gender and wish to use it wherever they can.
True progress is not about telling people that they should or shouldn’t put themselves into a category. It’s not even about expanding the list, which creates confusion and exasperation. It’s about removing the list and simplifying life.
For organisations who are fixed on methods of address, then a simple ‘how would you like to be addressed?’ is one of our top recommendations!
The issue of marital status titles is huge but still only represents a small part in the greater challenge of addressing gender inclusive language.
Changing data capture systems and communication patterns is complicated and training customer-facing teams can be a daunting process.
Both The Diversity Trust and GoTitleFree are committed to guiding employers through this part of their E,D&I journey and The Diversity Trust has signed up to GoTitleFree and are supporting the campaign.
For further support, please get in touch with the team or see the following course module:
Stella Sutcliffe is the founder of GoTitleFree and is also now on board The Diversity Trust team as a consultant. You can connect with them on social media at: