The polished stainless-steel doors close on the lobby of the Prudential building and I force myself to slowly release the breath I had been holding. I'm at SWE Headquarters in Chicago, when the doors open, I'll start my new role as SWE's Director of Diversity & Inclusion. As the elevator climbs, my eyes trace down my reflection, a bright white rectangle next to my jacket lapel stops my gaze. It makes me smile – I have a new name badge.
I’m Natalie Vanderspiegel.
Pronoun: She / Her / Hers.
10 characters different from every other name badge I’ve ever worn … “She/Her/Hers.”
Have you ever thought about how often we introduce ourselves? A brief greeting over a handshake, handing out a business card, email signatures, bios, resumes, social media profiles, interviews, a name badge … We are so used to mastering this personal soundbite that we don’t even notice it anymore. But for some, this endless stream of introductions can painfully reinforce feelings of perpetual exclusion.
Diversity manifests itself in many wonderful ways. Some elements of diversity are apparent like height or eye color; many are not apparent like sexual orientation or economic background. Some elements of diversity can seem apparent, but can be easily misinterpreted like gender identity or racial background.
Everyone has apparent and non-apparent qualities.
Sharing my pronouns allows me to proactively communicate my gender identity. My apparent gender is female and that matches my gender identity, also female, hence my preferred pronouns being She/Her/Hers.
Since my apparent gender and gender identity match, if someone assumes and calls me She or Her or Miss, we're both lucky, because they have guessed correctly. However, being inclusive means appreciating that the experience of apparent gender and gender identity matching is not the same for everyone and that we need to take steps to help others feel welcome and validated.
Imagine what it feels like when someone misinterprets and refers to you incorrectly - you are female, but they call you Sir or Him. This could feel alienating and depending on your relationship with the other person, or the context of the conversation – even harder to know how to respond. Embracing this type of diversity is important because the more we discover about gender, the more we realize that the binary model is too restrictive. According to a recent study, almost 3% of teenagers in Minnesota identifies on a wider spectrum (Rider, “Health and Care Utilization of Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth: A Population-Based Study”, Pediatrics, February 2018), and may have pronoun preferences of They / Them / Their.
You don’t have to be an expert to be an ally.
I choose to share my pronouns openly because I want to indicate that others are safe to share their authentic experience with me, and I'm hoping those who don't understand why my pronouns are on my name badge ask me about them. You don’t have to be an expert to be an ally. Listening with an open mind and continuously learning drives awareness around the nuances and complexities of gender identity and other forms of diversity. How you express what you learn can happen in small concrete gestures, like 10 characters on a name badge, and can mean the world to the person being included. Just by having the conversation, we improve.
Just by having the conversation, we improve.
I hope it becomes normal to not make assumptions about people based on outward appearances, but until then we will keep trying to find ways to educate, humanize and advocate for all of us to be more included and inclusive.
The elevator bell announces that I've reached the floor of SWE Headquarters, I square my shoulders – Natalie, She / Her /Hers, is going to make a difference today.
What are you going to do today to make a difference for inclusion?
Let’s have the conversation!
SWE Director of Diversity & Inclusion
Natalie Vanderspiegel serves as the Director of Diversity & Inclusion for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). She works at Solar Turbines advocating for a team that builds and tests robust overhauled natural gas turbines around our world. Natalie lives in Dallas, TX with her wife and their dog. Her educational background includes degrees in Ceramic Engineering and Engineering Management from Missouri University of Science & Technology.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Society of Women Engineers and/or Solar Turbines.