Trans Day of Visibility: Requiring Pronouns In Email Signatures

EDIT: Since writing this post, I’ve realized that I was wrong in believing that pronouns should be required. My opinion has changed, and I’d like you to read this post explaining why instead.

Are you requiring pronouns in your email signature? What if people are scared to share? I get an email with one of these questions at least once a week. An HR manager. A talent executive. A CEO, even.

That’s where a message I received last week came from – a CEO. After a 1 hour session on belonging, they sent me an email – an email I’d like to share with you, along with my response, so you understand why requiring pronouns in the email signature matters, especially the week we’re celebrating International Transgender Day of Visibility.

Here’s what she said: 

Thank you so much for a really wonderful, loving, and informative session today. I am curious about your thoughts on the idea of “requiring” the sharing of pronouns/gendered information. I have struggled, particularly in a leadership position, with creating an expectation that someone has to share something they may not be ready (or generally just don’t want) to share. I have a couple friends who in their 30s and 40s are still figuring out how they are most comfortable being referred to and even use different pronouns in work and their personal (or they say “comfortable” life). While I know there is never a “one size fits all” answer to these questions, in trying our best to create an inclusive and comfortable environment, was curious about your thoughts on this. Thanks again for a great session!

I took a day to respond. At first, I think I reacted the way most people would. OK, don’t do it. If it hurts someone, skip it.

But then it hit me. 

See, having something there – even if it’s not perfect – is a signal. A signal of acceptance. Love. Belonging. You don’t have to put your pronouns there, but you do have to put some pronouns because it’s a signal of love in a world full of headlines that would make anyone who’s trans or gender non-conforming think they can not belong at work.

If you’re wondering, this was my response: 

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. I’m thankful to know that someone leading this organization is thinking like you are about this topic.

Here’s my thought on “requiring.” I feel it is OK to require pronouns knowing that people will share what they feel comfortable with. If you’re more comfortable with that binary pronoun, that’s what you’re going to write. Even if someone was living as a woman outside of work but presented as a man, you don’t “require’ them to use their male name, right? They chose to. 

The reason I think it’s important to require is because it is one of those subtle cues we talked about – that this team is considerate, respectful, and open to others. That they care about understanding. That they want to create space where people can change. 

Are you requiring pronouns in your email signature? You should.

A lot of people talk about belonging, but to me it’s not about the press releases and the 1 hour presentations. It’s about what we do every day. We have to keep pulling on the threads we can to unravel this massive broken system of assuming everyone is the same before they can fit or assuming that saying something once will make people believe they can belong.

We can do better and it’s in the small things.

That’s why I believe it should be mandatory to include pronouns in email signatures (AFTER company-wide pronoun education) – because they are one of the small subtle cues of love. They are a small sign that exists in this world of work to tell other people they are safe and that they can exist fully. All the inclusion statements in the world aren’t going to create the same impact as a small subtle cue in a world where all the others would tell you to hide.  

You can read more of my subtle cues story here.

LGBT and Diversity Workplace Trends

Kat Kibben View All →

Katrina (Kat) Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive, unbiased job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. It’s precisely because pronouns signal inclusion and are a sign of openness that I don’t want them to be required. If you require them, you have people who aren’t accepting and welcoming with pronouns in their signature. It signals safety with someone you aren’t actually safe with. I think education around them and heavy encouragement for people to use them is great, but I wouldn’t want to see them required. I don’t want to see someone as safe, say something about who I am (lots of people don’t bother to look at my pronouns) and then get a nasty and damaging response.

    I also don’t like the idea of requiring people to put *something* there when they’re not comfortable putting their true pronouns there. Then they’re asking people to misgender them. People who know their true gender could get confused and misgender them on accident or because they think the person has changed their mind. It’s a mixed signal and it’s damaging. Before I was fully out, it would have hurt me to have the wrong pronouns in my signature. I definitely preferred not having any there.

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