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Asking for a Preferred Pronoun on the Application: The Latest Form of Gender Discrimination


One of the most popular things for employers to show they are hip to gender inclusivity is to ask the question, "What is your preferred pronoun?"


Here's the thing: you can't ask it in every situation, and this ignorance means a LARGE number of employers are breaking employment law. In the workplace, that's totally fine to ask this of existing employees. But on the job application? It's a giant Hell No!


Most folks know that"It’s illegal to ask about certain characteristics protected by law such as gender, age, race, religion, national origin, disability or marital status." (source). Yet if you are in the job market right now, all too often you'll see the Preferred Pronoun question -and it's NOT marked optional, nor is it reserved for the separate EEO questionnaire at the end.


BIG problem. HUGE. Y'all on recruiting and hiring teams, how do you think asking for a gender pronouns is NOT asking them to declare their gender? Asking for gender pronouns on a job application is tantamount to saying you don't ask their age yet require an applicant to check off if they are a Boomer, Gen X, Millenial, or Gen Z. Come on, folks.


HR Watchdog reminds hiring teams that "California law prohibits employers from asking, either directly or indirectly, about an individual’s sex or gender. Therefore, job applications should not include any questions about an applicant’s sex or gender." In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission itself says that even when states aren't as clear as California's rule, that "such inquiries may be used as evidence of an employer's intent to discriminate unless the questions asked can be justified by some business purpose."


What's the legitimate business purpose of asking for someone's gender pronoun before you've even hired them? There are none. You don't need to know if that person goes by "she" or "they" any more than you need to know if they have kids or if they go to church. Period. End of sentence. Your personal need to figure out their gender in advance is not a business case - so let it be. You don't need to refer to them as "Ms." or "Mr." when you meet them. Simply...CALL THEM BY THEIR NAME.


Now wasn't that easy?


More often than not, the gender pronoun question is an employer's way to get around asking the gender question...yet trying to seem like they are oh-so-cool with D&I. It's popping up more and more on the online applications for startups and other small businesses trying to make a name for themselves. Ironically, often those startups are the same employers with mostly white guys at the helm, and/or who loudly proclaim how diverse they are by posting a picture of their one non-White intern all over the Careers page. But that's for another blog post...


As a longtime recruiter and HR professional, my experience has shown that most who do want their preferred pronoun clear from the start will volunteer that information. Until then, take the Preferred Pronoun question off your job application. Focus on the knowledge, skills and abilities they bring to the role.


Like you are supposed to do anyhow. Whoa...


PS - and if you're a job applicant? Don't answer the question, and if you can, let the employer know this is a big no-no. If they blow you off, you'll know where they stand on true D&I.


"A world without gender is a world in which humans are encouraged to develop their full human potential. It’s a world in which characteristics that are considered desirable for humans, such as empathy and assertiveness, are encouraged in everyone." ~ from Scientific American

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