Best Practices for Correct Pronoun Use in Hiring

How you communicate with candidates significantly affects your hiring success rate. Part of that communication involves using inclusive language, including correct gender pronouns.

If you want to hire the best talent, you need to ensure that you’re addressing candidates in a way that makes them feel included and respected. Here are our best practices for ensuring the correct pronoun use in hiring, including why pronouns are necessary to pay attention to.

What are gender pronouns, and where do they creep in during recruitment?

Gender pronouns are how people refer to themselves and also how you refer to other people when you’re talking about them. Examples include "she/her/hers," "he/him/his," and "they/them/theirs."

While we’ve been using pronouns our entire lives, the LGBTQIA+ inclusion movement has brought gender pronouns to the forefront, highlighting that commonly used pronouns may not always fit everyone. It’s important to use correct pronouns and gender-neutral words to eliminate unconscious bias in the recruitment process.

Areas where pronouns come up during the hiring process include:

  • Job descriptions
  • Company profiles
  • Job titles
  • Candidate interviews
  • Emails and other correspondence with candidates

Why is correct pronoun use in hiring important?

Using someone's correct pronouns demonstrates respect and inclusion, which is extremely important in recruitment. Doing so helps to eliminate discrimination against nonbinary and gender-diverse individuals and shows candidates that you have an inclusive hiring policy.

An inclusive hiring policy opens up your candidate reach to more people, bringing in a diverse range of applicants. This means you have a higher chance of hiring the best talent for the role and building a more diverse team.

Correct pronoun use in hiring informs potential candidates that you’re a safe company to work for—as an inclusive hiring policy usually extends into an inclusive work environment. As an HR professional, you know that cultivating a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusion is the most important step to making employees feel comfortable. And when they feel comfortable and valued, their performance naturally increases.

5 best practices for correct pronoun use in hiring

Here are a few best practices around correct pronoun use when recruiting and hiring candidates.

See also: How to create an unbiased screening process

1. Use gender-neutral pronouns and language in your job descriptions

Start by incorporating gender-neutral pronouns in your job descriptions. Gender-neutral pronouns are words that refer to a person without specifying that person's gender. This means using terms like “they,” “they are,” “them,” or “the candidate” instead of gender-coded pronouns like “he” and “she”. This helps to ensure that you’re not creating any form of gender bias and preventing gender-diverse candidates from applying for the job.

Then, pay attention to your use of job titles. Use neutral, descriptive titles like “project manager,” “writer” or “engineer,” as opposed to “salesman” or “headmistress.” Research shows that even subtle word choices like “competitive,” “determined” and “rockstar” can have a gender bias. Try as far as possible to avoid stereotypically gendered words, or include a balance of masculine and feminine language. There are many online tools you can use to highlight any masculine or feminine coded words in your job descriptions—Gender Decoder is a great one!

2. Add a pronouns field in your application form

A quick way to find the correct pronouns to refer to a candidate is to ask them from the start. Incorporate a pronoun field in your job application forms, and make sure to expand the list to include gender-neutral pronouns. You can also have a “Prefer not to say” option for those who aren’t comfortable sharing.

You may also want to include an option for applicants to put their preferred name if it’s different from their legal name.

3. Don’t make assumptions

When reviewing candidates, you know that the number one rule is to never make assumptions. Your job is to find out as much about a candidate as possible and assess whether or not they’ll make a good fit. You’re not there to assume anything about them.

The same goes for pronouns. If candidates haven’t indicated their preferred pronoun, don’t assume to know what it is.

4. Always use preferred pronouns if provided

While you may think that using gender-neutral pronouns is always the safest option, it’s not. If a candidate has told you their preferred pronoun, or you’ve found it online, use it. Using gender-neutral pronouns when someone has explicitly told you their preferred pronoun is not only inappropriate, but disrespectful.

5. If you make a mistake, correct yourself

We all make mistakes, and it’s okay. If you refer to a candidate using the wrong pronoun, stop, apologise, and correct yourself. Correcting yourself intentionally and using a person’s proper pronouns after a mistake shows them that you care about respecting their identity. It also helps to enhance your memory of their pronouns.

Additionally, if you witness a colleague using the wrong pronouns for someone, consider politely correcting them. When doing so, avoid bringing too much attention to the misgendered person. When correcting a pronoun mistake, always do so seriously to avoid trivialising the situation.

Expand your hiring pool & hire the best talent by using the correct pronouns

Using the correct pronouns when hiring is an essential step to improving your company’s inclusive hiring and gender diversity. Additionally, you can increase applications and expand your talent pool by incorporating more inclusive language in your job descriptions.

The correct pronoun use shows candidates that your company offers a safe work environment where employees are valued and respected. And that makes the world of difference when building a diverse team.

Download our quick reference guide on how to use the correct pronouns in hiring.