When it comes to learning about inclusivity, many people don’t know where to start — so they don’t start at all.
This was a cautionary message issued by Mason Aid, a diversity and inclusion specialist who spoke Tuesday at the Hatchery, a Columbia coworking space. During the event, Aid discussed LGBTQ diversity in the context of Missouri business.
Aid offers inclusivity trainings and works with the Center Project, a nonprofit center focused on serving the LGBTQ community.
Before launching into pronouns, hiring practices and language, Aid made the argument for why inclusivity is beneficial for businesses.
“The LGBTQ community has nearly $1 trillion in buying power,” Aid said.
“There are places I will never go because I had a bad experience there, or a friend had a bad experience there,” Aid said. On the other hand, if a company makes an effort to be inclusive, “I’m there.”
The opening words of Aid’s presentation were: “My name is Mason Aid, and I use they/their/them pronouns. OK, deep breath, it’s not as difficult as it sounds.”
Aid demonstrated using they/their/them and ze/zir pronouns, which some individuals use as alternatives to she/her and he/his.
When in doubt, “just use the person’s name,” Aid said. For instance, “Mason came and did a presentation. It was really cool to hear Mason speak … it sounds a little awkward, but you’re not going to offend someone.”
Aid said that mistakes are inevitable, but there are appropriate ways to recover from them.
“We accidentally say the wrong thing … it happens to all of us,” Aid told the group. “We have to give each other grace and have the conversation around it, to grow and learn.”
“There are a lot of ways to express yourself as an inclusive business,” Aid said, such as advertising job openings at places like the Center Project.
Aid also suggested including spaces for people to write their preferred pronouns or preferred name on job applications or client intake forms.
Inclusivity and the sewing business
Mallory Donohue attended the event, with her own business practices in mind.
Donohue and her mother, Zede Donohue, run an online sewing business that provides podcasts, live-streamed demonstrations and patterns.
Donohue is working on a series of patterns that she hopes will allow people to customize their sewing projects based on their measurements, not their gender.
“Sometimes these words and the standards that pattern companies use to create garments can end up causing a lot of heartache … and can sometimes make you feel good or bad about your body,” Donohue said.
Aid suggested looking through website copy for opportunities to use gender-neutral language. For instance, replacing the words “husband” or “wife” with “spouse.”
“The language you use is the easiest thing to look at,” Aid said.
Aid also recommended adding language about gender identity and sexual orientation into non-discrimination policies.
“None of these changes are monumental, but they can have a massive impact,” Aid said. “As business owners, as people, we have to decide what our next step is and how big we are comfortable stepping.”