You may have landed on a generic signature ages ago—full name, job title, workplace address, phone number, Instagram handle—without giving it a moment's thought since. That was the case for me, at least. But the latest book from gender-diversity advocate Lee Airton, PhD, Gender: Your Guide, brought to my attention that something important and informative is missing. They say putting ("signposting") your pronoun of choice in your email signature could help increase a vibe of inclusivity and ethic of LGBTQ+ allyship in your office and in the world at large.
For basic background, here's the SparkNotes breakdown of the pronoun issue: Gender exists on a spectrum. We're no longer just cisgender women (she/her/hers) or men (he/him/his); we're trans*, gender-fluid, genderqueer, nonbinary, and agender. Some trans* folks identify as either a man or a woman, and use the correlating pronouns. Others have a fluctuating gender identity, no gender at all, or genderqueer identity and use neutral pronouns like they/them/theirs or zie/zim/zir. (Nico Tortorella, for example, recently came out as using they/them/their pronouns.)
"I send over 30 emails a day, where I tell the people that I'm emailing that I use they/them pronouns, simply by putting 'Pronouns: they/them' in my signature." —Lee Airton, PhD
For trans* folks, gender nonconforming people, and those whose gender identity may not align with how they're publicly perceived, putting their pronoun preference in an email signature can help prevent mis-gendering. "I send over 30 emails a day in which I tell the people that I'm emailing that I use they/them pronouns, simply by putting 'Pronouns: they/them' in my signature," says Dr. Airton.
But signposting isn't just a practice for the LGBTQ+ community. When a cisgender person—or someone who is read by others as their identifying gender 100 percent of the time—showcases their preferred pronouns, it helps to normalize the practice for all people and recognizes that gender is way more complex than just "male" and "female." "It says to the LGBTQ+ community that you are an ally, that you are someone who will receive correction well if you've been using the wrong pronouns for them," Dr. Airton says. "When I see or hear someone signposting, I know that sharing my own pronouns with them will likely go smoothly. It may seem small, but these small, everyday changes trickle down."
It's no secret that trans* and gender-nonconforming people face intense workplace discrimination, which is why it's more important now than ever for cisgender people to support their trans* peers.
Though signposting in email signatures won't totally fix the intense discrimination trans* and gender-nonconforming people face at work or on a daily basis, it does help. And considering that attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community have worsened (especially for trans* people of color) under the Trump administration, it's more important now than ever for cisgender people to support trans* peers in these small but public ways.
Another reason cisgender people should consider adding their personal pronouns to their signature? Well, the opportunity cost simply doesn't exist. Career expert Lauren Berger, founder and CEO of Intern Queen, assures me this is the case even for work-related emails and job interviews. "I've found that for potential employers, there two schools of thought when you include your pronouns in an email: The first is celebratory. The employer wants open-minded people with different perspectives working on their team, and they see the pronoun inclusion as a signifier of a progressive mind-set. The second is that it's extra information. This is a conservative viewpoint, but to these employers, the pronoun inclusion is just an added detail—and not a make-it-or-break-it one," she says.
The same holds true if you're now choosing to add your personal pronoun preferences to your current work email signature. "I'd recommend mentioning it to the person who helped you set up your email signature when you were first hired, but there's no right or wrong way to do this," Berger says.
When you add your personal pronouns to your email, you may get some questions from coworkers. To help 'em out, consider hyperlinking to resources like MyPronouns.org or TheyIsMyPronoun.com. Then, just keep being your best whole, authentic, awesome self.
This post was originally published on November 13, 2018; updated on August 8, 2020.
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