Because Pronouns Can Save Lives
This insightful conversation was with Nate Shalev, an expert in workplace inclusivity based in the USA. Nate talked me through how we can make others feel safe by learning to use more inclusive language.
0:00:01.1 Speaker 1: Welcome to the Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.
0:00:12.9 Toby Mildon: Hey there, Toby here and my pronouns are he-him, and it will become very apparent as to why I've just announced my pronouns, which I don't normally do when I open up this podcast, in the conversation that we're gonna have today with my guest, Nate Shalev. And we've got some really great conversation in store for you. Now I came across Nate on LinkedIn, and it was a post that they put out on LinkedIn that really got my attention. And before I introduce you to Nate, I want to just read you the post that they posted, because I think it's really insightful and I found it really moving as well. So Nate published yesterday morning, the first thing I saw on LinkedIn was an inflammatory viral post about why the author thought that pronouns were absurd. I could have responded, but using pronouns saves lives." And that was the bit that really got my attention. I could have responded to say that LGBTQ students feel safer when they have an inclusive curriculum, but I didn't respond and I didn't read the comments, I just block them.
0:01:26.2 Toby Mildon: There is a time and a place to educate, to redirect, to challenge. I'm actually really good at it. It's why I started my own consulting business where I do just that. But this is not the time for any of that. Most social media posts aren't. To put it frankly, the post was not worthy of my energy. Sometimes people tell me that they are surprised that I don't have more hateful comments on my LinkedIn posts about being trans and queer. The truth is that I do. I just delete, report or block them very quickly. There aren't many places where I can almost guarantee the safety of queer and trans people, but this LinkedIn page is one of them.
0:02:07.3 Toby Mildon: This is a place of solidarity for all of those who have to work through extra challenges just because of who they are and how they exist in the world. This is a place of growth and learning for all of those who want to make their workplaces work better and subsequently their communities work better. So yeah that was... For me, that was a hugely powerful and moving LinkedIn post, so I reached out to Nate 'cause I really, really wanted to get in contact with him and have this conversation with him. So Nate welcome to the show, it's lovely to see you. Could you just spend a bit of time introducing yourself to us a bit more.
0:02:45.1 Nate Shalev: Yeah, thank you so much for having me and for reading that post so beautifully, it was really nice to hear. I don't actually know if I've heard it out loud, so thank you so much. So my name is Nate Shalev, my pronouns are they and them. I'm an inclusivity expert, and as you mentioned, I spent over a decade in the social impact space, and then I founded my own consulting business called Revel Impact. So I focus on helping companies create workplace cultures where both people and businesses can thrive. I believe deeply that work doesn't begin or end at work, and as I said in the post, I think work... There are a few places that we can control and work is one of them, so we can create cultures, not just where people feel safe, but where they can really thrive.
0:03:26.2 Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Let's kinda launch into it. Let's start with, I think some basics really. What are pronouns?
0:03:37.0 Nate Shalev: Yeah. So pronouns, within the language, pronouns are just things that we used to refer to what we wanna refer to someone or something. So in English, pronouns are used to refer to people and they become really important because they're gendered. So different languages have different ways of doing this but in English, our pronouns are gendered. And so that means that when you're referring to somebody by their pronouns we're also in some ways affirming their identity, or if we're not using the pronouns they want, we are not affirming their identity. So that's the reason why the kind of pronouns conversation is so integral to our identities because they are referring to us as people.
0:04:16.3 Toby Mildon: Yeah. It actually reminds me of some research that was done where it was between German and Spanish, and how people describe objects that are gendered so I'm gonna probably get this the wrong way around. But I think it was in Spanish, let's say a bridge is masculine, so people described it as strong and robust, and then in German, let's say it's feminine, they described it as elegant and beautiful. Yeah. It just goes to show how powerful language can be, and particularly when we look at gendered language.
0:04:57.0 Nate Shalev: Yeah, I think that's absolutely right. I think the language... I would say language and labels overall, they are just ways that we are using to try to identify things, and they also shape the way that we understand each other. So they're imperfect, but also really useful tools when we're trying to know who we are, Right? I think folks think that the LGBTQ community can be very complicated 'cause we got all these letters and what do we do? But really at its core, we're just trying to figure out who we love, how we wanna exist in the world and understand who we are and then we find the label that best aligns with that. And I think it's similar with pronouns as well.
0:05:33.1 Toby Mildon: The people that usually listens this podcast ReckonHR, so they usually like heads of HR, diversity and inclusion practitioners, people that work in learning and development. So I suppose from their perspective, why are pronouns so important in the world of work and the organizations that they might be working in?
0:05:53.7 Nate Shalev: So people are gonna work best when they feel included. So if you are not including, let's say from the time that you are... Somebody's applying to your workplace and on your application you don't have a space for pronouns, and then I apply and I speak with a recruiter the first time and they're not using my correct pronouns, I'm automatically gonna feel like this workplace is not the place for me. And then let's say that the recruiter happens also to ask my pronouns and they use it and then I get into the office, and then my very first day have people speaking to or misgendering me, now, all of a sudden I'm going to feel like I don't have a place here and I can't do my best work there. So because pronouns help affirm our identity and they help us feel included in the workplace, it's really important that we do because LGBTQ folks are great employees just because we are humans in the world.
0:06:45.8 Nate Shalev: And so we wanna make sure that we include everyone who might be able to contribute to a workplace. And that includes folks who might use different pronouns than what people might assume. We all use pronouns. We all have pronouns that we want to be called. So let's say, no matter what pronoun you use, think about it and think about somebody calling you the opposite, just because they assume that that's what you would wanna be. So if you go by he imagining somebody just calling you she just because they thought that that's what you are. And it would just feel really bad. Like it just doesn't feel good. So that's kind of to have that flip, that we all have them. It's not just for the LGBT community, everyone has a pronoun that they use.
0:07:25.5 Toby Mildon: I really liked your practical example of capturing pronouns in recruitment and better still making sure that that gets handed over to the onboarding people that do the onboarding for when you start in an organization. How else do pronouns show up in the world of work?
0:07:46.6 Nate Shalev: Yeah, so I think it's holistic, right? So it's onboarding, it's like recruiting, onboarding, and then making sure that managers and leaders and that everyone has the training to make sure that your teams feel inclusive. So I think pronouns are a really easy starting point. So it's right... Because it's something that we're gonna be called all the time. And it's something that needs to be reinforced all the time when we're in our one-on-ones when we're in our meetings. But that could even be broadened out to gender inclusion overall, if you are a team leader, planning an event, making sure that you have name tags that have pronouns so that everyone can feel included or making sure that a team event that you're gonna go to has a gender neutral restroom. It really is... It needs to be holistic. It needs to be inclusive, and pronouns are a really easy way to do it because one there's something that we're just saying. So it really is just the intention and making sure that they are present everywhere. So everyone knows them and everyone can feel good about how they're being referred to.
0:08:48.6 Toby Mildon: From your experience and the work that you do and the organizations that you work with, what are the best practical actions that employers can take to be more inclusive around gender and addressing gender equality in the workplace?
0:09:05.9 Nate Shalev: Yeah. So what I'll also suggest is to think about like employers, I would say like organizations at large, but also really even more granular to the teams that you're on. So no matter where you are in your organization, you can have an impact on gender inclusion. So if you are in marketing, you can make sure that your marketing materials always include gender diverse folks. You can make sure that your messaging is also gender diverse and that if you're talking about a community that you make sure to include that community in whatever you're talking about and mention that if you are a manager on a team, making sure that everything you're doing is gender inclusive. And that can be like, you're doing a team building activity and you want folks to talk about childhood stories.
0:09:48.8 Nate Shalev: Know that for trans folks childhood stories might not be comfortable to share. And if you're in HR, it's one of the places that you can have the biggest impact, because things like, I know so I'm based in New York, and I know that the US is different in terms of our healthcare. But because you have employer sponsored healthcare, making sure that there are trans inclusive and queer inclusive healthcare benefits, and knowing that any efforts you do for gender inclusion benefit everyone. So if you were including fertility and abortion, well, abortion I was gonna say X, that's on my mind right now with what's going on in the US, but fertility care, adoption benefits, anything that is going also be more for gender inclusion is also gonna benefit everyone.
0:10:29.9 Toby Mildon: I talked to quite a lot of people who sometimes feel awkward around using pronouns that don't feel like natural to them. I think some people are so used to just using he and she and those pronouns like line up with what they expect somebody's pronouns to be. And then when they meet somebody who uses a pronoun different to what they would expect, they have kind of feelings of awkwardness, fear of putting their foot in it. What are your thoughts around that? And how can people navigate that choppy water?
0:11:09.1 Nate Shalev: I would encourage people to think about the feeling that they wanna provide for somebody else, meaning that they... You want somebody to feel included. You want somebody to feel good about the conversation that you're having, so it's okay that you're feeling awkward. I would focus on making sure that... Focus on what you wanna create, not necessarily what you might be doing wrong. So awareness is okay. Language is always evolving to meet our needs. And to meet who we are and to meet the societies that we're in in the current moment that we're in. So it's okay that language evolves and that you're getting... That you might be getting used to something. For they, them pronouns, I always encourage folks to think that they also, they do this all the time. So let's say I was telling you a story that I went to the bank and the manager there was really nice. And you might not know who the manager was, so you'd say, oh, what was their name? It's something that we naturally do anyway, but some people feel that awkwardness when they're trying to be intentional about it, because they might not be used to it, but it is a natural way that we do use they as a singular in other parts of our language. So it's not as unnatural as some folks might think.
0:12:10.2 Toby Mildon: What you've just said reminds me like the first time I did unconscious bias training, we did this exercise where we were looking at the assumptions that we make around job roles. And it was like somebody said, you go see the doctor and then the other person said, and yes, what did he say? Because we assume that, you know a doctor's more likely to be a man than a woman, for example. And actually a simple thing to do is just switch out the he and the she with they. So...
0:12:39.1 Nate Shalev: Yeah.
0:12:41.1 Toby Mildon: Even where you might have those kind of gender stereotyped roles, like yeah a doctor being a guy or a nurse being a woman or, you know, it actually just, just, yeah, just default to they. It's quite a simple thing to do really.
0:13:00.2 Nate Shalev: And it really is. And that's also a great point about when you get someone's pronouns wrong, because let's say you were telling that story and somebody said, he, and you were like, oh actually my doctor's a, she, you wouldn't like that person. Wouldn't overly apologize and say, oh no, I'm so sorry. I got the pronouns of your doctor wrong. I feel so bad. This is so terrible. This is the worst thing ever. They would just be like, oh, okay. She, what, like, what did she do? Right. And you would move on with your conversation. And that's just a really good model when you get someone's pronouns wrong. It's okay. You just like correct yourself and you move on quickly. You don't have to overly apologize. It doesn't have to be a big thing. It's actually, uh, really distracting when it is a big thing, because then we can't have the conversation that we were having. Like we were talking about what we were gonna get for lunch. And now we're having a 20 minute conversation about pronouns in which I am telling you that it is okay, that you got my pronouns wrong and that is not helpful to any of us.
0:13:48.7 Toby Mildon: Yeah. And I think it's about owning that and not getting defensive. I think some, some people can get a bit defensive and they don't, they don't own it. And then move on. It's like you need to kind of yeah. Apologize, accept, and then accelerate [chuckle]
0:14:05.1 Nate Shalev: Yes.
0:14:06.0 Toby Mildon: And move on. And, yeah, I was in a situation recently where I went to a disability event and the host made a couple of homophobic and transphobic slurs. And I called, I called them out on it afterwards quite publicly and but rather, rather than holding their hand up and saying, I'm sorry, I got it wrong. Yeah. I'm gonna learn from it. We're gonna move on. We're gonna get better from this. I just met this brick rule of defensiveness. Which doesn't help anybody. It doesn't help. The other guy who was a gay guy next to me, who was more in line of these homophobic slurs actually, than I was, it didn't help him feel any more included and it didn't help the event either. So yeah. It's, it's powerful.
0:15:00.0 Nate Shalev: Yeah. I agree. It helps no one. And I'd assume that it also probably didn't even help him feel better. I think it probably just like no, no one is benefiting from this. So yeah. To, take away that defensiveness and make the corrections that you need to.
0:15:13.0 Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So you've listed off quite a few things that organizations need to think about thinking like how gender inclusive are healthcare policies, using pronouns on name badges at events may empowering managers to feel confident around gender equality and using pronouns, et cetera. What are some other aspects of gender inclusion do you think businesses need to think about, what would be your top three suggestions?
0:15:42.7 Nate Shalev: Yeah. So I think, I guess it's tough to choose three, but I think it really is focusing on so all the different aspects. So if, if you wanna think about the, like, I would say like life cycle of [chuckle] like your employee, but recruiting and onboarding is for sure a big one around like documents, particularly for trans folks. So knowing that legal names might not match the names that we go by, or our documents might have a different gender marker than what we use. So having a system in place to be able to flag, to flag those, and especially if you're using any sort of like... I forgot what the acronym is, but whatever the acronym is for you, like the recruiting platforms that folks use, sometimes those are automatic, they automatically filter into whatever system you're using. So make sure...
0:16:26.2 Toby Mildon: You mean the applicant tracking system?
0:16:28.4 Nate Shalev: Exactly, exactly.
0:16:28.5 Toby Mildon: ATS. Yeah.
0:16:30.3 Nate Shalev: Yep. The ATS systems. So speak to your providers and see if you can change those automatic tools, training the recruiters to know, to ask and know that somebody's voice and appearance might look differently than you thought. And that's okay. And it shouldn't be addressed because then you're making somebody automatically feel uncomfortable. And then in terms of when somebody is at your office being inclusive of, of gender. So I mentioned gender neutral restrooms, but some really uncomfortable situations happen in restrooms. And if I'm... If it's my first day and I just wanna go to the bathroom and I immediately have an uncomfortable situation, that's not gonna be great. So having the like lived experience of your employees be comfortable, and that includes making sure you don't have a gender dress code, making sure that... We mentioned like managers having training, but that everyone has training around gender inclusion and what that means. And then the third thing that I'll say is knowing that one of the beautiful things about the LGBTQ community, the kind of gender diverse community or gender inclusive community, is that we exist across geographies, across identities that we're we're everywhere.
0:17:41.7 Nate Shalev: Which means that you are, that there's going be there are like some statistics that like one in six gen Z now identify as LGBTQ. And there are more queer folks who identify as disabled than like the, than the general population. There are more queer folks who identify, as neurodivergent as well. So knowing that you're... That LGBTQ folks have multiple identities and making sure that you're inclusive of those multiple identities, I think is also really important. Like Jewish LGBTQ folks are gonna be facing antisemitism, black queer folks are gonna be facing racism. LGBTQ women are facing sexism. So if your office is also not inclusive and your workplace is not inclusive and accounting for all these other identities, then you're also not gonna be gender inclusive. So that's the last thing that I would say is just remembering and being intentional about your holistic inclusion strategy, because queer folks, queer folks exist across that spectrum and gender inclusion needs to exist across all that spectrum as well.
0:18:34.5 Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Excellent. Now this is the Inclusive Growth Podcast, and I ask everyone this question, there's no right or wrong answers. I'm interested in your perspective on this. What does inclusive growth mean to you?
0:18:51.5 Nate Shalev: Yeah, I think inclusive growth when I think about it, I think of actually making sure that inclusion is part of your growth strategy, understanding that if your business, if you want your business to grow, you need an inclusion strategy. It's not a nice thing to have. It's not an extra thing if you have the time or budget it is actually really integral to the growth of your business and that you can't do it out without it, so if you wanna attract top talent, if you wanna keep that talent, if you wanna like save money and build your revenue and whatever specific business goals you have, you need to be, you need to be thinking about inclusion in order to grow. And then I would also add that there's so much beyond that, that we can do there's so... There's such an opportunity to create a different kind of world by focusing on inclusion that I would say the possibilities for growth are exponential. We can have no limits if we really want to think about the kind of worlds we create at our workplaces and our communities.
0:19:50.7 Toby Mildon: Yeah. I love the way you put that. And that's pretty much what I said in my book...
0:19:56.9 Nate Shalev: Oh great. I should read your book.
0:20:00.3 Toby Mildon: [laughter] Yeah. It's yeah... That's exactly how I've kind of framed DNI, that it's there to help you grow and prosper as an organization that it's, it's not something that you just do on the side of your desk or should be done as a box ticking exercise that if you get it into the DNA of your business, it'll help you thrive and prosper. Now before we go, if the person listening to us right now wants to reach out to you and follow up with you, what should they do?
0:20:29.6 Nate Shalev: Yeah. So I encourage you to follow me on LinkedIn and connect on LinkedIn. And I know that LinkedIn sometimes feels like just the place you go to when you want to get a job or when you're hiring. But I've really been trying to cultivate meaningful conversations on there. So that's the best place my website is also revelimpact.com. If websites are, are more your thing.
0:20:50.7 Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Well, Nate, thank you ever so much for joining me on this episode today, I've really enjoyed our conversation. I've learned lots from you and hopefully the person that's listened to us today has also learned lots and can take some really practical things away that they can apply in their own organization to make their organization more LGBTQ and gender inclusive and friendly. So Nate, thanks ever so much.
0:21:14.7 Nate Shalev: Yeah. Thanks so much. And whoever's listening. I would say you can do it no matter what you're focusing on, you can do it, it's not complicated you just have to be intentional about it. So thank you so much for having this conversation. It was really fun.
0:21:23.5 Toby Mildon: Wonderful. Thanks very much. Take care.
0:21:28.7 Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to the Inclusive Growth Show, for further information and resources from Toby and his team. Head on over to our website @mildon.co.uk.
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