Growing up, Heather Dexter didn’t feel like a girl but tried to ignore that sense and fit in – until it became impossible to do so.
"I had to be my true self and be authentic,” said Heather, a TD Bank store manager in Gorham, Maine, who started using the gender-neutral personal pronouns they, them and theirs personally about two years ago and professionally within the past year.
“I do not identify as a woman and I do not identify as a man. I am non-binary,” said Heather, who sees gender as a spectrum rather than two distinct identities. “I have felt gender expansive or genderqueer my whole life.
Heather considers it important for everyone – including cisgender individuals, whose gender is the same as their sex assigned at birth – to share their pronouns to avoid assumptions, show respect for everyone’s gender identity and avoid putting the onus of inclusiveness to members of the transgender and non-binary community.
“I find it important to share pronouns because no matter how someone looks, pronouns cannot be assumed,” they said, adding that people can’t know someone’s pronouns until told. “When everyone’s sharing their pronouns it takes that responsibility off the transgender and non-binary community.” If transgender and non-binary people are the only ones sharing their pronouns, they may be outing themselves unintentionally, Heather said.
"While gender identity outside of the binary is not new, this has always existed, it is just now being more widely discussed and bringing awareness to this topic," Heather noted.
At TD, colleagues and customers have a number of ways to share their pronouns. In 2020, the capability for colleagues across North America to share their pronouns in names tags and business cards was launched. In 2021, Canadian Personal Banking and Business Banking systems were enhanced, including the option for customers to use their pronouns, through the branch, ATM, and phone channels. In 2022, our HR system was further enhanced, including to provide the capability for colleagues to share more than one pronoun. Recently, TD has made it easier to display pronouns. Colleagues now have the capability to display their pronouns in key TD applications, including Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Teams (e.g., "Smith, Tom (Pronouns: he/him/his)").
Respect and Inclusiveness
Alex Gysen, who uses he/them pronouns, works as regional manager, LGBTQ2+ business development, for Canada’s Prairies region, serving as a trusted liaison between TD and the LGBTQ2+ community. He also sees the use of pronouns as a path toward authenticity, respect and inclusiveness.
“People use pronouns in order to describe a part of their identity. Being able to display our pronouns along with our own names allows us to bring our whole selves to work as members of the LGBTQ2+ community. It is also an effective way to ensure that you do not misgender somebody before they are able to share their pronouns directly with you,” Alex said. For example, by default, it would be best to use the gender neutral pronoun “they”, unless they have shared a gender-specific pronoun with you. For individuals who uses more than one pronoun, such as Alex, it would be valuable to ask the individual how they would like their pronouns to be used.
“It will also avoid potentially embarrassing mistakes during written communications when you are writing to someone whose name you may have never encountered before, or if someone has a gender-neutral name,” such as Alex, Lei or René, he added.
Alex would encourage everyone to display their pronouns “because openly sharing your pronouns on email signatures, at the start of a call or meeting, when meeting someone for the first time, and on name tags will help us to normalize the sharing of pronouns in professional and personal environments to create a more inclusive environment. Displaying your pronouns also serves as a great reminder for those around you to think of the way people around them has chosen to be addressed.”
A Path to Authenticity
Heather, who’s worked in banking for 16 years and at TD for three, was drawn to the bank because of its focus on diversity.
“I am loud, proud and out and I won't hide who I am, and it's really important to me to work for a company that supports my authenticity, and at TD, one of our sayings is ‘bring your authentic self to work,’ and I feel very supported and welcome,” they said. “I haven't always been comfortable being my whole authentic self at previous companies.”
In their TD office in Gorham, Heather displays a rainbow pride flag. “I've had so many customers comment on it, that they can feel comfortable in my office,” they said. “It’s nice to see someone who’s part of your community when you go into a business.”
Not everyone Heather comes into contact with at work is accustomed to general-neutral pronouns, but they’re trying. “I know that some people are adjusting and I appreciate the effort,” including brief apologies, they said.
If a colleague were uncomfortable about disclosing their pronouns, Heather said they’d be supportive and available and point the person to the many internal resources for the LGBTQ2+ community. Heather has gotten the support they needed from the LGBTQ2+ community and encourages others to do the same.
Alex said it’s important to remind anyone reluctant to share their pronouns that they’ll be respected regardless of their pronouns, or if they choose to keep them private.
“We should look at the sharing of pronouns as an invitation to others, rather than an obligation. People could have one or many reasons they do not feel comfortable sharing their pronouns: they are currently unsure of their own pronouns, they are not ‘out of the closet’ about their pronouns and also do not want to lie to their peers, or do not use pronouns at all, among other reasons,” he explained.
“If you are ever unsure of how to refer to someone,” Alex added, “using their name is always a great start!”