Pronoun Inclusion Primer
- Pronoun inclusion fosters safety and communication in a workplace, especially for transgender and gender-nonconforming people. This leads to greater diversity, innovation, and employee retention, according to research.
- Education is more important than appearances. While pronoun inclusion can be modelled and encouraged by leadership, demanding pronoun inclusion can be counter-productive and even dangerous. Leadership is advised to educate employees on pronoun inclusion but to ultimately let people include their pronouns if/when they feel comfortable doing so.
- I recommend putting your pronouns in major or static introductions when you’re safe and able to do so. Check “How to Include Pronouns” for visual examples.
Why do some people include their pronouns in introductions and email signatures? I’ve seen people assume that pronoun introduction indicates a person is transgender or has certain political leanings. But in reality, introducing your pronouns isn’t about political alignment or even necessarily your gender identity; it’s more about prioritizing effective communication and safety in the workplace. My name is Jude, my pronouns are he/him/his, and I’d like to explain why and how you should include pronouns when introducing yourself in a professional setting, as well as when and how not to do it.
Why to Include Pronouns
People usually use pronouns that match their gender identity, but that identity might not match up with their name, appearance, or voice in a traditional or obvious way. People introduce their pronouns to clearly indicate how they’d like others to refer to them; it is not to get attention or announce a certain political alignment. And this isn’t just useful for transgender (trans) people. For example, a cis-gender (not transgender) woman may dress very masculine and be commonly mistaken for a man or a non-binary person. In that case, she may prefer having “she/her” on her nametag, so that clients stop misgendering her.
But even if you’re cis-gender and gender-conforming, introducing your pronouns communicates that you intend to respect transgender people and their pronouns. This can provide some much-needed relief or assurance for transgender people, especially if you’re in a position of power relative to them. Trans people and trans allies are more likely to communicate with and trust you. Furthermore, if only transgender people introduced their pronouns, then introducing pronouns would immediately “out” somebody as transgender. That’s not something all trans people want. Even trans people who are usually open don’t always want to be open, in large part to avoid prejudice and harassment, which they are multiple times more likely to experience than cis-gender people (Bailey, 2014, “Scope of Transgender Discrimination”). The more control a trans person has over who knows and who doesn’t, the safer that trans person will feel and the less likely they are to be harassed.
For example, our department (the Learning Café) has a transgender employee. But because we all have our pronouns in our email signatures, you cannot tell who’s trans and who’s not, even with prolonged, face-to-face interaction. This gives the trans member of our department the option to disclose or withhold the information how and when they see fit while still communicating their pronouns. It also makes it harder to harass our trans employee, not only because it’s harder to single them out but also because the prolific pronoun inclusion warns people that transphobia is not welcome in the space. Furthermore, when this employee first joined us, they were professionally “in the closet” but knew they wanted to transition soon, and thus were actively seeking a trans-inclusive workplace. At the time, the whole department was already including pronouns and often sported rainbow pins or other allyship indicators, and this was a major factor in that employee’s decision to maintain their position while transitioning. Contrary to a common trans-ignorant/phobic belief, Elias et al. (2018) assert that “being transgender does not affect a person’s ability to perform well at their job” (p. 58). Citing 3 different studies, they also assert that “transgender individuals have proven to be valuable assets to organizations, both in terms of intellect and innovation” (p. 57). Retaining transgender staff tends to benefit a workplace, especially when that workplace values diversity and innovation.
When to Exclude Pronouns
Multiple people have asked “what if I have a good reason to not include my pronouns?” My answer, without fail, is “then don’t” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Trans people also selectively withhold pronoun introduction; there’s nothing innately wrong or transphobic about it. And there are good reasons for withholding your pronouns. For example, if a researcher wishes to avoid prejudice, they may publish under their initials and withhold their pronouns to create gender anonymity. Alternatively, they may publish under they/them pronouns, despite ordinarily using different pronouns. It’s up to the individual to communicate (or not communicate) how they’d like to be addressed. This, in part, is why I do not recommend somebody in a position of power to require pronoun inclusion. If people have reasons for excluding their pronouns—whether or not those reasons are founded in transphobia or ignorance—then forced pronoun inclusion may foster resentment or even endanger trans individuals.
Pronoun inclusion suggests a base respect for transgender people. If somebody does not possess that respect, then including pronouns can create unrealistic expectations from trans people/allies and lead to conflict. If you manage a workplace and you want to make it more trans-inclusive, you might want to educate your staff on why pronoun inclusion is beneficial and encourage, but not require, pronoun inclusion. If nobody includes their pronouns, it’s a sign that more education or discussion may be needed. If forced, pronoun inclusion no longer functions as a signal of safety or inclusion, but rather of compliance or branding. Refraining from inauthentic displays of allyship and instead focusing on education aids trans inclusion and safety and allows all individuals to use their discretion.
How to Include Pronouns
You don’t have to indicate your pronouns with every single introduction—most trans people don’t even do that. I recommend including pronouns in major or static introductions. Here are three examples:
1. Email Signature
2. Slideshow Title Page
3. LinkedIn Profile
Bailey, M. (2014). Transgender workplace discrimination in the age of gender dysphoria and ENDA. Law & Psychology Review, 38, 193–210. https://lc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.lc.idm.oclc.org/scholarly-journals/transgender-workplace-discrimination-age-gender/docview/1552701391/se-2?accountid=12064
Elias, N. M., Johnson, R. L., Ovando, D., & Ramirez, J. (2018). Improving transgender policy for a more equitable workplace [PDF file]. Journal of Public Management & Social Policy, 24/25(2), 53–81. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/231128248.pdf