Problematic Pronouns: How to Respond to Workplace Pressures


Building on our previous article, which addressed the need to resist the Gender Pronoun Movement (the “Movement”) and highlighted potential concerns for those with conscientious objections, this piece delves into practical strategies to navigate the advent of pronouns in the workplace.

Situations involving pronouns in the workplace should be approached with nuance. Not every request for pronouns is an attempt to impose a new anthropology onto the culture.

Many younger individuals, influenced by contemporary gender theories, view pronoun exchanges as a courteous practice in their interactions. Their primary aim is often to avoid “misgendering” someone. Others may just be going with the flow of the linguistic norms of the day, unaware of the harmful cultural shift they are facilitating.

While the underlying belief about misgendering stems from a misinterpretation of human anthropology, it’s genuinely held by those who subscribe to this perspective. When engaging with such individuals, a patient and gentle approach in communicating the truth is advisable. Thoughtful questions about gender ideology can often guide them towards a more accurate understanding of human nature.

On the other hand, there are those who should know better but choose to ardently promote the revised perspective on gender. Engaging with them might evoke a desire to adopt a combative posture and dismantle their performative work of virtue signalling with quips like, “What is a woman?” or “How would one know what it feels like to be a woman? Shouldn’t one be a woman to know what it feels like?”

Tempting as it may be, temperance is a virtue, and doing the hard work of maintaining a cordial workplace may ultimately be up to those who know better.

Compromise offers a better, more harmonious path forward, allowing for mutual respect and courtesy while maintaining your deeply held beliefs. However, when compromise fails, you should be aware of your rights and the protections available to you, drawing on internal DEI and broader employment guidelines to confront workplace pressures surrounding pronoun usage.

The Art of Accommodation

The gender Movement attempts to compel two distinct forms of speech.

Firstly, it compels positive speech, characterised by a ‘duty to say’ something. For instance, individuals are expected to use specific language, such as someone’s preferred pronouns. In the same vein, there is the expectation to introduce one’s own pronouns, or use someone else’s ‘preferred or chosen name’ (different from their birth or ‘dead name’) that aligns with their preferred gender.

Secondly, the Movement compels negative speech, which is characterised by a ‘duty to refrain’ from speaking. Here, people must purposefully avoid certain language, such as the ‘wrong’ pronouns (i.e. referring to a biological man, Tina, who identifies as female, by he/him pronouns), or from using their former, ‘dead names’.

In an ideal setting, colleagues or employers would respect an individual’s conscientious objection to the Movement’s prescribed speech. But in practice, one often faces the challenge of balancing the upholding of one’s conscience, against creating a hostile work environment.

This necessitates a compromise between speakers with conscientious objections and those demanding specific speech.

Dealing with Pronoun Use and Names

The compromise here is not one of sacrificing one’s convictions and therefore becoming compromised.

Instead, it entails bypassing any pronouns altogether and consistently using an individual’s preferred or chosen name when referencing them in the third person. For instance, instead of using pronouns for Tina, a biological man, one would always use the name Tina instead of a pronoun.

From the perspective of someone who disbelieves in gender ideology, although this means acquiescing to some aspects of compelled negative speech (‘dead names’) and certain positive speech concerning the new names, this tactic is still a reasonable accommodation that also upholds one’s conscience.

Here’s why.

Society already accepts negative speech in other contexts for the greater good, such as refraining from racial or religious hate speech to maintain racial and religious harmony in Singapore. Although what constitutes the ‘greater good’ varies based on context, the point remains that some compromises on individual liberty are acceptable for community interests – in this case, workplace harmony and interpersonal collegiality.

Another reason is that using names without verifying their legal status is already common practice. The distinction between a dead name and a chosen name lies in its legal documentation. So why make the fuss? Many names, like Charlie, Alex, or Joey, are gender-neutral. If those names don’t typically pose an issue, why should others? Alternatively, one can view using chosen names as akin to nicknames, which doesn’t inherently validate a specific gender identity.

Dealing with the Pronoun Introduction Question

You also have several options to maintain courtesy when faced with the pronoun introduction question. For instance, you may simply respond with a ‘prefer not to say’ or ‘not comfortable to say’ response.

For the 99.9999% of you who have never been misgendered in your lives, you may consider offering the following:

“Thank you for asking, but being misgendered has never concerned me. So, I don’t use pronouns.

Alternatively, you can sidestep the pronoun query altogether by simply introducing yourselves by your name without mentioning pronouns.

From the perspective of a proponent of the gender Movement, while it may initially be disappointing that some do not actively affirming their worldview, the reasonable person should see that this is a fair middle ground. The courteous compromise should resonate with the core tenet of their worldview, emphasising the importance of respecting a diversity of perspectives – even when applied to SOGIE.

The core of this debate extends beyond just SOGIE; it engages values informed by notions of equality. Equality itself is not an isolated standalone norm, but is intertwined with substantive values.

In the case of pronoun introductions, the substantive value is upholding one’s conscience. Though proponents and opponents of the Movement have differing views on SOGIE, they are driven by their deeply held sense of conscience.

If upholding one’s conscience, is as important as proponents assert, then the principle should be consistently applied to both camps, irrespective of one’s position on SOGIE.

Declining a request to Display Preferred Pronouns

There could be a point where one is asked to display preferred pronouns as part of one’s bio, whether on a company site, promotional material, or even a pitch deck. Should you be uncomfortable doing so, you might like to drop a friendly line to an upline manager with a response that approximates the following:

“I believe in upholding mutual respect and creating a warm and hospitable workplace for everyone. I am committed to this goal.

Nevertheless, it would be dishonest of me to accede to this request by participating in the idea that I could have a different gender identity than my biological sex. In short, the request contains values to which I do not subscribe.

I’d like to reiterate my desire to have a peaceful workplace. I don’t need my colleagues to accept the traditional view of gender, and likewise, I hope that I will not be required to participate in their view either.
Regardless of our differences, I remain willing to respect and work with anybody with beliefs different to mine. I hope I will be offered the same courtesy.”

Regardless of how one words it, try making mention of the following ideas in the memo:

  1. The request for pronouns is not neutral; rather, it harbours values.
  2. The request conflicts with my sincerely held beliefs
  3. Mutual respect should require that no one be forced to affirm something objectionable to them
  4. Affirm the dignity of every person, regardless of their beliefs on this topic, and commit to treating all with professionalism and respect.

Navigating Confrontation: When Compromise Fails

If the compromise strategy fails, confronting your employer or Human Resources department might be necessary. Conscientious objectors have two primary sources of protection to appeal to.

Internal DEI Policy Protections

Your company’s internal DEI statement itself might be a source of protection. While it may not explicitly list SOGIE as a protected category, it likely recognises ‘religion’ as a protected characteristic. Further, it probably has a ‘catch-all clause’ that ensures unlisted differences are also considered under the banner of inclusivity (e.g. the phrase “and any other differences” in the definition of “inclusivity”).

Hostile attempts to force adherence to the Movement’s speech patterns can and should be framed as a form of workplace harassment or intimidation that violates internal DEI guidelines. Whether one goes it solo or with like-minded employees, your employer’s attention should be drawn to proper application of internal guidelines, to respect objections made based on religion or personal conscience, and more importantly, embody true diversity which includes diversity of thought and belief.

Employment Practice Protections

The “Enhanced Tripartite Guidelines on Exercising Sensitivity for a Harmonious Workplace” (the “Guidelines”) offer another layer of protection against pronoun-related pressures. These Guidelines provide that “employers should be sensitive to diverse cultures, values and beliefs of their employees” when introducing non-work-related policies, “support for any cause should not lead to bullying, harassment, or ostracism at the workplace”, and “employees should not be required or pressured to participate” in non-work-related activities.

This aligns with Law Minster Shanmugam’s assurance that “Workplaces should be part of the secular space shared by all Singaporeans. They should not be places where people are compelled or pressured to participate in, or support, non-business-related causes”. These could be brought to the attention of your employer.

However, if pressures still persist, consider reporting the matter to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices at

Concluding Thoughts: Singapore’s Cultural Crossroads

As the culture wars from the West reach our shores coupled with the rise of woke ideology, the workplace is one of the many battlegrounds in the days to come. Against this backdrop, we must be mindful that seemingly insignificant actions, such as capitulating to the Movement, can have profound implications, fueling shifts in cultural and societal norms.

Resisting cultural pressures will not be easy. However, staying true to one’s conscience and advocating for the vision of the good will be worth it as we shape our nation’s future.

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