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  1. Blog
  2. Allyship

Allyship 101: What’s the Point of Pronouns in Email Signatures?

The footnotes on normalization

Person holding a whiteboard with pronouns
Photo courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon

You’ve probably noticed that more people are including gender pronouns in their email signatures. Many HR departments have started suggesting the practice as part of their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) measures, while plenty of workers are taking the step on their own. An example may look like this:

Even while some professionals may not understand these practices or might even become defensive about them, there are important reasons behind including pronouns beyond signifying and claiming your identity, including showing you’re an ally to the LGBTQ+ community and creating a more inclusive work environment.

We’ll be walking through the key reasons behind including pronouns, how they can exemplify allyship, and whether companies should require that employees use them.

Read more: LGBTQ-Friendly Companies: 11 Key Contributors to Inclusive Cultures

How is including pronouns in emails inclusive?

Many people in the workforce are part of the “gender expansive” community, defined by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation as “those that do not self-identify as male or female.” Thus, the pronouns-at-work discussion continues to be a crucial topic in professional culture.

The purpose behind the pronoun-identifying practice is to normalize the fact that gender is not binary, says Janice O’Neill, the director of talent management at Cushman & Wakefield, a global real estate company. She talked to the BBC about her practice of encouraging staff to include their pronouns in their email signatures and says, “This is a very easy way to send a message of inclusion.”

Workplace inclusion initiatives focus on ensuring that employees feel welcome and supported by their employer and/or colleagues. The goal is for everyone to be treated fairly, to have equal opportunities, and to be treated with respect. Inclusion works alongside diversity in that both concepts emphasize the uniqueness of each individual, encouraging behaviors and attitudes that support and recognize everyone equally.

The email-signature-pronoun practice (or pronouns on your LinkedIn profile) aims to make it more normal and comfortable for gender-expansive employees to share the terms they go by. Instead of requiring these employees to speak up or correct others each time they get it wrong, they are able to share upfront. And when everyone practices sharing their pronouns, there isn’t a stigma around doing so, and there is much less confusion in general, helping employees feel more comfortable being themselves at work.

Read more: Miss, Mrs., Ms.: When to Use These Terms & How to Be More Inclusive

The allyship behind sharing pronouns

Even if an employer doesn’t require or encourage the practice, adding your pronouns to your email signature can show that you’re an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. You are recognizing that there are different ways to identify oneself, and you are showing that you don’t have a limited mindset. Even such a small step can indicate, “I’m not making assumptions about how you identify based on how you look.”

Being an ally means normalizing practices like these that are more welcoming to the nonbinary or trans communities. They help these individuals feel safer and more respected, which is extremely important in the workplace. Using pronouns helps everyone affirm one another’s identity.

For people who have never thought about their gender pronouns, the practice might not seem that important. This stance often comes from a place of privilege: No one has ever questioned the pronouns they go by. However, those who have been referred to incorrectly know how disrespectful and harmful it can be to be misgendered. If everyone identifies their pronouns, these instances will hopefully occur less and less.

Steven Huang, head of diversity and inclusion at Culture Amp, says: “Most people have not been questioned about their gender identity. This is a simple way to show that I care about and respect the people who are in that minority who are questioned about their gender identity. It’s also an acknowledgment of my privilege.”

Including your pronouns, even if they are the majority, shows that you recognize this and are using your place of privilege to support the minority.

Adding your pronouns is a very easy way to be an ally and to show that you don’t want to make assumptions about people’s gender. This isn’t to say that our deeply ingrained biases won’t still exist, but it’s a step in the direction of questioning and eliminating those biases.

Read more: 4 Implicit Association Tests That Will Change the Way You Think in the Workplace

Should companies require pronouns in email signatures?

More and more companies are starting to encourage employees to include pronouns in their email signatures, on Zoom calls, and elsewhere to signal a more inclusive workplace. But does this mean that all employees have to comply? Should companies make this a requirement?

The answer is probably not. This practice wasn’t started to force everyone into sharing their identity with their colleagues. In fact, doing so can often make many gender-expansive people uncomfortable. 

One Ask a Manager reader wrote to the publication recently that they are actually still figuring out their pronouns and how they want to be referred to. Receiving word that their company wanted them to include their pronouns only made them feel uncomfortable. They wrote, “my relationship to gender is ambivalent at best, and I find being asked to discuss such a fraught, deeply personal topic at work distressing.”

These situations are common, especially as workplaces, industries, and our society as a whole are still figuring out how best to handle these topics. So while a company shouldn’t require pronoun usage, which can lead to workers feeling even more uncomfortable, they should encourage the practice for those who are comfortable with it. This conversation should always be accompanied by resources on allyship and places employees can turn with questions or concerns. It should be an ongoing discussion, and feedback should always be welcome.

Read more: 10 Funny, Heartwarming & Cutting Tweets Celebrating LGBTQ Employment Rights

What else can we do to be allies to the LGBTQ+ community at work?

Including pronouns in work emails is one small way to signal allyship. There are lots of other steps you can take that help the LGBTQ+ community feel recognized, supported, and respected at work. Here are a few other examples:

  • Ask questions: Remember that it can be very harmful to make assumptions about people based on factors like appearance, background, speech, style, and many more. Asking questions can help show that instead of assuming, you’re ready to learn.

  • Speak up: If someone makes offensive comments at work or complains about pronoun usage, it’s your chance to stand up for LGBTQ+ communities and explain why these steps are important.

  • Never pressure someone: Make sure you’re always asking if someone is comfortable sharing their pronouns or experiences in general. Don’t put people on the spot, especially at work.

  • Admit mistakes: As we’re all learning and growing, mistakes will happen. If you use an incorrect pronoun, apologize, correct yourself, and move on.

Read more: How to Pronounce Names Correctly & Why It Matters

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