Why sharing pronouns at work is important
Whether in a meeting or an email signature, sharing pronouns with colleagues signals respect and inclusion
Sometimes small actions can make a big difference to help someone feel welcome at work or school.
Take the inclusion of pronouns in an email signature, on a video call profile, or as part of meeting introductions. A few short characters can signal that you’re not about to make assumptions about someone’s identity.
“This small gesture helps facilitate a workspace that strives to be more equitable and inclusive to everyone, including transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people,” explains Dr. Tobias Wiggins (he/him), an assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, in an article for Athabasca University (AU).
“This small gesture helps facilitate a workspace that strives to be more equitable and inclusive to everyone.”– Dr. Tobias Wiggins (he/him), assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies
Starting on Sept. 25, AU students and staff can identify their pronouns through their Microsoft Office 365 profile for apps such as Outlook and Teams.
To better understand the importance of sharing pronouns at work, The Hub leaned on the expertise of Wiggins, who studies transgender health, sexuality, and queer visual culture. AU counsellor Kelly Gordon (they/them), also shared their insights on how acts of inclusion can make a powerful impact on your colleagues and peers.
What is a pronoun?
People use pronouns in place of a person’s name. Examples include you, me, and we, but also pronoun sets such as she/her, he/him, and gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them, and ze/hir. When we use specific pronoun sets, these are considered affirmed pronouns, not a preference.
“Pronouns are a fundamental part of a person’s identity,” Wiggins writes.
Wiggins explains that many transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people carry a painful history of having their names and pronouns called into question or being misidentified. Such acts result in their identity being denied, ignored, or overtly and systemically challenged, he writes.
Respect is everyone’s job
By identifying our pronouns and using a colleague’s correctly, we show respect for each other and create a safe, inclusive working environment.
“I get a serious boost of dopamine every time someone uses my correct pronouns,” explains Gordon.
They describe themselves as non-binary, an umbrella term that refers to folks who do not conform to the gender binary.
“It’s so nice to feel seen in a world that doesn’t always notice I’m there, and doesn’t always make space for me to exist.”
Where should I identify my pronoun?
Email. Email signatures are a common way to identify your pronoun to work, colleagues, or friends. They often follow your name, sometimes in parenthesis.
Office and social profiles. Tools like Office 365 and social media platforms such as LinkedIn have built-in functions that allow you to identify your pronouns. But you can also incorporate your pronouns into the bio space on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and others.
During meeting introductions. Meetings with groups of people you’ve never worked with closely are opportunities to introduce yourself and share your pronouns. For example, you would say: “My name is Kelly and my pronouns are they/them,” Gordon explains.
When in doubt, don’t assume
Gone are the days of addressing groups as “guys” or “ladies and gentlemen” in meetings. Instead, use more inclusive gender-neutral terms such as folks, people, team, or y’all. Similarly, use “humanity” over gendered terms like “mankind.”
Gordon also advises using “they” when referring to groups of people. Instead of saying, “A student will be supported by his or her tutor,” you can simply say, “A student will be supported by their tutor.”
If you’re unsure about what pronouns someone uses, don’t be afraid to ask. And if you accidentally get someone’s pronouns wrong, correct yourself—or thank someone if they’re correcting you—and remember for next time.
Commit to learning
Another way to promote respect and inclusion is by opening your mind to other perspectives. Here are some helpful resources from the AU community and beyond to help you educate yourself.
- Why Include Pronouns in Email Signatures? By Dr. Tobias Wiggins
- The Trans Language Primer
- The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity
- The Trevor Project
- Athabasca University Students’ Union
- The Pride Centre of Edmonton
- The Trans Wellness Initiative (specific to health-care issues)
- PFlag Canada
- The Genderbread Person
Banner image: Gender Spectrum Collection