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Gender Pronouns in Email Signatures: Three Approaches for Employers to Consider

By Chelsea Jensen posted 01-20-2023 10:55 AM

  

It is now common to see gender pronouns on business cards, social media, and email signatures. This practice is to clarify what gender pronoun to use, such as “he,” “him,” “she,” or “her,” instead of a person’s name, when talking about that individual.

Using a person's identified pronouns is a form of respect and basic courtesy. Including one’s pronouns in an email signature lets others know how to be respectful. For example, I identify as a woman, so my email signature block would say Chelsea, She/Her. 

Some organizations have instituted or are contemplating creating uniform standards for sharing gender pronouns. There is flexibility. Organizations can require it, prohibit it, or make it optional. There's no one-size-fits-all approach and there are factors employers should consider when deciding what to do.

Require

Requiring employees to add pronouns to email signatures is a way to show that your organization has an inclusive culture and respects every person's gender identity. Individuals from different cultures interact more than ever, and people communicate with others whose gender may not be immediately recognizable by their names.

Usually, we read a person's gender based on their outward appearance and expression and assign a pronoun. That said, we don't necessarily know a person's correct gender pronoun by looking at them. According to a Gallup survey, approximately 2 million people in the United States identify as transgender or nonbinary. Putting a pronoun in a signature block can let others know how someone identifies and avoid confusion. For employees whose perception of their gender aligns with their birth sex (cisgender), including their identified pronoun can help prevent mistakes, especially with gender-neutral names, and create a feeling of solidarity with individuals who are not cisgender.

Requiring the inclusion of pronouns as part of a company-standard signature block allows an employer to create consistency in how the pronouns are incorporated — for example, specifying where within the signature block they should be placed or the use of a specific size or font type. 

Make Optional

Some individuals may not feel comfortable identifying their gender. For example, a nonbinary employee might be hesitant to specify pronouns, or another employee may have a faith-based objection for which they request a reasonable accommodation. These situations could lead an employer to decide that including pronouns in the signature block is optional.

Allowing employees to share pronouns serves many of the same benefits shared above, but it does not force anyone to participate. Organizations can still have standards for the appearance and placement of pronouns in the signature block for employees who decide to include them.

Prohibit

Some employers may decide to prohibit the use of pronouns in signature blocks as it maintains uniformity and consistency of branding. If your organization prohibits pronouns in the signature, it would be best if it enforces a uniform signature block and doesn't allow other forms of personalization. For example, an employer could allow employees to change the font color or include their favorite quote. If other exceptions, like the ones just mentioned, are already allowed, prohibiting employees from self-identifying may become problematic.

There are reasons for each of the three approaches, which can differ across organizations and industries. As a reminder, many states prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If employees wish to include pronouns that are not permitted or resist including them where required, the employer should discuss the matter with those individuals. From there, the employer can decide the correct action, accommodation, or whether to make an exception.

If you have any questions, please contact Employers Council at info@employerscouncil.org.


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