Be careful what you ask for as the saying goes. The push is on in American society to neutralize all things gender OR at least all things male. Just last week, Berkly pushed forth a Board resolution to change certain words (manhole, manpower, she, he, his, her) to more neutral terms. Changing the prefix “man” to maintenance and workforce. Which in the context isn’t all that bad. The big hit is to she, he, his and her. The new preferred nomenclature – their and they.
Ripple effect at work
You might think that this is a small, manageable task to change the terminology. And I am here to tell you that the ripple effect is tsunami-sized. From business cards, letterhead, voicemail changes to hours and hours of labor changing every policy on the books to reflect these new terms. The environmental damage from reprinting policies, holding meetings to discuss the new policies, and getting every employee to signoff that they have received the updated policy is just the tip of the iceberg. Safety and risk consultants will need to update their safety policies and training materials such as powerpoints will all need to reflect these changes. In some respects, this is an unintended consequence that benefits the local economy and burdens the taxpayer.
The torpedo in the hull
While all the terminology changes will play havoc on the real work that needs to be accomplished, there is a bigger torpedo that was launched with this policy change. That is while trying to uplift and bring awareness to gender issues, especially transgender issues; the Board Resolution neutered the movement. From written policy changes will come changes to speech. Selecting the term they or their over his or hers will become the norm. And that means it will become difficult to describe certain gender transformations. When she transforms to he most people would say she became a he. Now this gender transformation will be referred to as they became a they or their a their. Making the entire conversation more cumbersome and challenging to have. This will create confusion among those people trying to have a conversation.
What’s this have to do with risk
What does all this have to do with risk? Well, quite a lot, I believe. You have to remember that this is now City policy, meaning that employees of the City will need to work within these parameters. Saying that when it comes to crime or emergency response, it is going to become very sticky for police and fire to describe the ongoing events. Imagine an EMS professional trying to comply with policy when contacting a local hospital “we have a 52-year-old they who is experiencing trouble breathing” or a 9-1-1 operator trying to describe an armed robbery in process to officers in the field “we have a 22 year old white they, wearing blue jeans and a hat”. Or a white they punched a black they. Narrows it down, doesn’t it?
How will worker’s compensation benefits be described and will judges and jury be able to follow along with the testimony of City employees when they describe that they and their did this and that?
One unique benefit from all of this terminology shuffling is that sexual harassment claims and hostile work environment claims should reduce naturally. Hard to discriminate based on gender when everyone is they or their.
On the horizon
There are some additional concerns that risk managers should be looking for, and that is a new class or free speech claims as well as sexual harassment claims. In a world that craves individuality and the freedom to say whatever is at the end of their tongue, neutralizing terminology destroys those freedoms.
And for all the freedom of choice that gender warriors have been fighting for there seems to be a disregard for a straight male or female to identify as a straight man or woman or he or she. I predict that the naturalization of the male and female will ultimately lead to an infringement of freedom of speech and the individual’s right to be called and referred to as their preferred pronoun.
In addition, I predict that the constant talk discussion about sexuality and gender in the workplace (the one place where this is to be avoided) will be seen as a grounds for hostile working environments to straight men and women. Let alone the sexual harassment claims that should arise from forcing employees to state their name, preferred pronoun, and sexual orientation. Telling your coworkers who you like to sleep with or date when you make an introduction flies directly in the face of sexual harassment law. The better policy is “stop publicizing your sex life”.
And I am still waiting for the WIC program to include be renamed to MWIC for Man, Woman, Infant and Child.