Lead by example
In the last 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. As the supervisor of this team, how can I solve this situation?
I feel like the longer I wait to address it, the more disrespectful and complicit I am being. I can’t police people’s language, but I would call someone out for other behavior that I would interpret as disrespectful. (For what it’s worth, I don’t suspect anyone was intentionally disrespectful by not using their colleague’s preferred pronouns.) My non-binary colleague hasn’t told me anything about this being a problem, but I have to assume he feels dismissive. I feel like I owe them an apology, but what I really owe them is better leadership. What would you do?
Thank you for asking this question. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and part of that is using the correct pronouns for people. You’re already doing a lot of what you should be doing by always using your team member’s pronouns in all communications. He would start by sending a memo to his entire team reminding them of the importance of referring to people using the proper pronouns. Don’t single out your non-binary team member because, frankly, this is a matter of common courtesy and applies to everyone.
You can also meet privately with your team member to let them know you’re aware of the issue and working to fix it. Ask if there’s anything you can do to improve your experience at work, but don’t ask them how to solve the overall problem you’re dealing with, since it’s not their problem to solve it. I trust you will guide your team forward in a caring and considerate manner.
When you’re here, you’re family
For the past four years, I have been an executive at a small electronics company. While I am treated well and most of all enjoy my work, I would like a change, which is why I have been confidentially applying and interviewing for new positions. Since the beginning of my time with this company, the CEO has been very warm and open socially and has organized many events involving co-workers and their families. My wife and I have gotten to know the CEO’s wife and teenage children, and I have even used this environment to arrange temporary jobs for some of my family members. Over the past year, the CEO has begun referring to the company as a “family,” even referring to a recent hire as having a crush on us.
The CEO told me the other day that he felt betrayed by a former employee who left after giving proper notice but not telling him first that he was interviewing. He made it very clear that he expected “family” members to tell him if they were interviewing.
I hope to be successful in the coming months in my search for a new job, and since I do not have an employment contract, I am, like most American workers, free to leave or be fired at any time. In the past, I have handled these transitions by giving proper notice after accepting a new offer, ending my responsibilities, usually attending a bachelorette party at a local bar or restaurant, and remaining on good terms. I want to avoid any ugliness when giving notice, so I’m wondering how I should communicate with the CEO for the rest of my time with this company.
Just because your CEO thinks your company is a family doesn’t mean it is. Your work is your work and your family is your family. I love a collegiate workplace where people feel valued and respected and where people can socialize outside of work. That is ideal and should be the norm, although it is not. But professional collegiality is not family yet, nor should it be. When employers suggest that the company is a family, they are trying to elicit your emotional investment so that it overrides everything else. When the time comes for the layoffs, I can assure you that the word “family” will disappear from the company’s vernacular.
Your CEO is behaving very unprofessionally. If you feel betrayed when an employee gives proper notice and moves on to a new position, that’s a personal problem you need to work out with a therapist. This weird emotional transfer you’re imposing on your staff is inappropriate. You do not need to tell your employer that you are looking for a new job because, unfortunately, too many employers will retaliate upon hearing such news. For now, contact the CEO as he normally does because he has nothing to report. Continue with your job search, and when you get a new position, give plenty of notice, share generously in any transition work that needs to happen, and move forward with a clear conscience.
The case of the misspelled name
My name is Alisha. It is often misspelled and mispronounced in my everyday life. However, my name is on my email address at work and some of my co-workers 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 let it slide. Is there a proper way to correct someone who continually misspells your name at work?
— Alisha, Rhode Island
I can relate a lot. My name is written with an n. It is constantly misspelled. It’s aggravating in the way that little things are aggravating, which means I have the necessary perspective. When someone misspells my name in an email, I simply sign my email Roxane (with an n) so that the correction is there but not the centerpiece of the correspondence. When you receive an email with your name misspelled, simply sign your name correctly with a parenthesis of your choice over the correct spelling. I find it easier to walk the line of defending myself and my name while also acknowledging that the constant misspelling of my name is, in the grand scheme of things, a minor aggravation.
roxanne gay he is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributor to an opinion writer. write to her firstname.lastname@example.org.