I was interested in reading this Rafael Langer-Osuna, a lawyer in Squire Patton Boggs, recently came out as “non-binary. ” That is, Raphael does not identify himself as masculine or feminine and uses the pronouns they/they instead of he/she.
This decision generated many articles in the legal media, suggesting that the company issued a press release or instructed its public relations professionals to spread the word.
This seemed like a positive development.
A large, prestigious company was (1) promoting an important issue of inclusion and also (2) recognizing the benefit of marketing and recruiting in support. LGBTQIA professionals.
As much as a legal marketer who literally edited thousands from site biographies and a father who was repeatedly educated on LGBTQIA-related issues by his enlightened 20-something children, I immediately wondered how the company approached Rafael’s pronouns in their biography. I was a little disappointed to see that the company simply avoided using some pronouns. Instead, the writer simply repeated Raphael’s name each time a sentence referred to them – seven consecutive “Rafaels” in seven sentences without a single “they”, “they” or “their”:
I understand. I have many liberal friends in their 50s – executive committee members in prominent firms – who are still not very comfortable with or informed about the issue of gender fluidity. Others are concerned about the reaction of customers and potential customers.
As society gradually learns more about the spectrum of humankind and sexuality, professional companies are working, perhaps struggling, to adapt to the new reality. Still largely controlled by people who grew up before gays actually “existed”, this is a big change in a short period of time. I see this as a matter of culture and education, that is, (1) you are the kind of person you are willing be open-minded about this subject and, if you are, (2) have someone trained you about it?
Obviously, you can educate yourself if you like; there’s a lot of good stuff online about gender and sexuality. An excellent article that I regularly distribute to my friends is the article with the scary name, “CISGENDER?! Is this a disease? ” about Average.
The “pronoun problem” of non-binary professionals.
In professional profiles (eg site biographies or LinkedIn), the unstated rule is a 3:1 ratio between the person’s name and the pronouns. That is, the text seems to flow more comfortably if you open with the person’s first name, then use the pronouns the next two times, and then repeat the person’s name, followed by two more pronouns. That is, “Ross… He… He… Ross… [etc.]”(“He”or“His”would be interchangeable in this context.)
As a workaround, Squire Patton Boggs chose to avoid the pronouns entirely and simply repeated Raphael’s first name in each personal reference – seven consecutive times. To the average reader, not including personal pronouns seems suspicious, as if someone is hiding something. In addition, it’s a missed opportunity to casually normalize the use of “they” pronouns and educate more members of the legal, business, and marketing community.
Most marketers have not yet had the opportunity to address these issues. So I’m going to try to establish some basic principles as I understand them.
Crafting the biography of a non-binary trader can seem complicated.
This means that you must be careful not to inadvertently create any confusion for the reader as to who or what the plural pronouns refer to. Consider this synopsis: “Brittany is a lawyer representing companies. They… “At this point, it may not be clear to the reader whether” they “are referring to non-binary Brittany or “enterprises”. This means that the biography must be structured to avoid any accidental confusion. This is just the careful editing that each professional’s profile deserves.
There is a simple editing solution.
First, define the scenario from the beginning, including “(They/they)” at the top, next to the person’s photo, name and contact information, ie “John Smith (they/them)”. Rafael did this on his LinkedIn profile:
But that’s just the beginning; less educated readers may not yet understand what this means. It can feel awkward or intimidating to people when they start to feel comfortable with plural pronouns, so consider this an opportunity to positively influence your audience.
Add some education on non-binary bios.
Open using the pronoun in a context where there is no chance of confusion about singular against plural form, for example. “Rafael is a lawyer specializing in international arbitration; they have specific knowledge in banking cases. (Note that I have intentionally avoided using the plural “arbitration cases” here, which could have led to a momentary misunderstanding.)
This addresses the problem at the top and informs the reader to be aware that any future “they”, “they” or “theirs” may relate specifically to Raphael, not exclusively to plural groups or nouns.
Also, it might have been helpful to provide some additional context. For example, Rafael’s biography ends, “Rafael maintains an active resource and pro bono practice.” A quick look at the LinkedIn profile shows that most of these pro bono efforts are in support of LGBTQ groups and organizations. Specifically naming these groups would provide additional relevant information. (See my sample edit at the end.)
Always be proud of who you are.
There are not many disadvantages to describing an individual in detail in your biography. Fishman Marketing has been branding individuals and law firms for 25 years. My strict rule is that both companies and individuals must clearly decide who they are and what they offer, and proclaim that attribute out loud and with pride. If you do this, those seeking this trait will be attracted to you as a customer or employee. Likewise, those who avoid it will avoid it. frankly you would you like for them – you will not have a good long-term relationship with those who do not respect your most fundamental values.
Be clear about who you are and the benefits of what you offer, and like-minded people will be attracted. Whether you are tough, creative or friendly; or a particular nationality, race or sex; or a large or small company, let everyone know. Those who don’t want this are unlikely to have a successful relationship. There is a lot of work to do; don’t try to be something you’re not. Just seek to attract those who value you.
Here is a small edition of Rafael’s biography:
Rafael is a commercial litigator who tries cases; they have significant litigation experience in matters involving international relations and US foreign affairs laws. They are fascinated by the intersection of law and information, eg. data privacy, attorney-client privilege, online defamation, and intellectual property.
Rafael frequently leverages his Spanish language skills and deep knowledge of different cultures in representing foreign governments and multinational corporations in international disputes in US courts. They often help coordinate global legal strategy in cases that span jurisdictions and handle state and federal appeals at all levels. Lawyers across the profession seek Rafael’s advice on complex issues of attorney-client privilege.
In addition, Rafael maintains an active pro bono practice, supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQIA) causes, including both as a member of the NALP’s “Non-Binary Task Force” and as a board member of the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF), the oldest and largest association of LGBTQIA people in the legal profession.
I sincerely applaud Rafael and Squire Patton Boggs for taking this positive step and helping to create a more diverse and inclusive profession.