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Gender Pronouns at Work

By Phil Ziff, Project Manager

You may have noticed that more and more people have been adding gender pronouns to their professional email signatures. While this topic is relatively new in the business world, it is an important practice to consider in 2021.

A quick grammar lesson.

What are pronouns? Pronouns are words that are used in place of nouns to describe a person. “I” and “you” are first and second person pronouns, respectively. “He,” “she” and “they” are examples of third person pronouns. We use pronouns to refer to people so that we don’t have to name each person every time we reference them.

Why do people use different gender pronouns?

For cisgender (/sisˈjendər/ adj. denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex) individuals, one’s pronouns typically match the sex one was assigned at birth, and so one may not have given pronouns much thought. But pronouns are an essential facet of one’s identity for anyone who is trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming.

By using someone’s preferred gender pronouns, you are affirming that you recognize them, that they exist. Conversely, if you neglect to use someone’s preferred pronouns, you are in effect harming that person by refusing to see them in terms that are desirable and comfortable to them. This is especially important at a time when there are increasing incidents of violence and discrimination against people who identify differently from perceived societal norms concerning gender identity. Erasure, too, is a form of violence.

Note that while the term “preferred pronouns” is commonplace, and it’s common for a person to prefer certain pronouns, gender identity itself is not a “preference.” How someone would like to be addressed is core to that person’s identity, not a request that you may choose, or not choose, to accommodate.  

Why should I add gender pronouns to my work email?

Adding your gender pronouns to your email signature might seem like a small gesture, but it is very meaningful to people whose gender identity may not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Here are just a few of the many reasons why making this easy change is a good idea:

  1. You acknowledge and respect how people choose to identify within your organization. When everyone at a company shares their pronouns, this opens up a safe way for individuals who may use pronouns not matching the gender they were assigned at birth to share their pronouns without calling attention to this act or forcing them to assert themselves in a way that may make them feel uncomfortable. In this kind of safe space, all employees can feel comfortable going to work each day, without feeling the need to hide who they are.
  2. It normalizes discussions about gender. Gender identities are a relatively new topic in the cultural zeitgeist, especially in the workplace, even though trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people have been living and working for years. The more that cisgender individuals become aware of other gender identities, the more they can affirmatively choose to be inclusive. Using pronouns in your signature is a great way to spark a conversation with your co-workers and industry colleagues.
  3. It shows your company is forward-thinking and inclusive. In 2021, it is generally accepted that some people use different pronouns than those that match the gender they were assigned at birth, and businesses should keep up and remain relevant. Other companies with trans, non-binary, and non-conforming leaders and employees will appreciate the acknowledgement and your business’ decision to be an inclusive organization.
  4. It prevents accidental misgendering. Including your pronouns can help prevent accidental misgendering of cisgender people too. It can be embarrassing for everyone if you wrongfully assume, for example, that a new client named “Kim” is a woman or a partner named “Jordan” is a man. And understand that there’s often an additional layer of hurt when misgendering trans, non-binary or non-conforming colleagues.

Okay, so what do I do next?

While you shouldn’t mandate that everyone at your company immediately adds their gender pronouns to their signatures, it’s good to educate and provide the option. Show your support by adding your pronouns to your own signature and engage meaningfully with employees who may have questions. There’s no need to shame anyone for expressing ignorance—awareness is the first step toward change.  

Please know that adding your gender pronouns to your signature is not a political statement. This may be a sensitive issue for some, but please recognize that using preferred gender pronouns is about inclusivity, not politics. 

As for how to add pronouns, there are no set rules. Many people include them next to their names, for example:

Phil Ziff
Project Manager
Pronouns: he/him/his
MKP communications inc.
5 East 16th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003

You can see more examples of configurations here. There is no need to get too caught up in formatting—what’s important is that you add the pronouns in the first place.

Remember, adding gender pronouns to your email signature is more about other people than it is about you. What may seem like a small change can have a major impact, especially on those who identify as trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming. Adding just three short words shows that you are respectful, inclusive, and committed to creating a safe work environment for employees and colleagues.

MKP communications inc. is a New York City-based communications company specializing in financial services marketing and merger/change communication.