Lynne Hamilton, Principal Management Consultant, Mott MacDonald

At Mott MacDonald we’re running a campaign on conscious inclusion which is focused on nurturing the talents of our diverse teams. At the same time we’re talking much less about unconscious bias. We now know this concept is problematic as it gives the impression that there might be nothing we can do about it – as it’s unconscious. It might even reinforce those biases rather than reduce them! We also know that training in isolation does little to change behaviour. By changing the narrative towards conscious inclusion, we encourage people to think about what they can actively do to include others. We’re reviewing the way we recruit and manage our people, as well as the processes and systems we all use in our daily work.

For many people their electronic signatures are a way of telling others about important aspects of their identities. Earlier this year, we added two fields to our e-mail signatures so that people can add their pronouns and how to pronounce their name. Consciously building a more inclusive workplace helps everyone feel like they belong. Getting someone’s name and pronouns right also shows respect, which is one of our company values. In the arena of inclusion mispronouncing someone’s name or getting their pronouns wrong is referred to as microaggression – i.e. a subtle action – verbal or non-verbal, conscious or unconscious – that has a harmful effect on marginalised groups.

We’re just about to launch a survey to see how well people have engaged with this idea and the reasons why they have (or haven’t) added these two fields to their signatures. We’re looking forward to seeing the results and using these to inform our next steps on conscious inclusion.

One of the survey response options is: “I think it’s obvious what my pronouns are/how to pronounce my name”. Of course it’s obvious to you, but how would you feel if someone constantly misgendered you or mispronounced your name?

I shared this tip for allies on our Yammer network: If you make a mistake with someone’s pronouns or pronunciation of their name, it’s better to say “thank you” rather than apologising profusely when corrected. That way the minority/marginalised person can say “you’re welcome” instead of trying to assuage your guilt by saying “it’s okay, don’t worry about it”. In this moment, their feelings are more important than yours.

One of my colleagues has some great advice about pronouns and the same tip can be used for pronunciation: “If you make a mistake when talking about someone, as well as correcting yourself out loud in the moment, it can be good to also take a moment soon after to think a few practice sentences in your head using their pronouns. This helps to reinforce thinking about them using the correct pronouns as well as just speaking about them in that way.”

Outside work, in everyday life, my advice is: if you’re not sure what someone’s pronouns are or how to pronounce their name – please ask, don’t assume!