The simple fact that conversation around pronouns is picking up momentum is extremely positive. Misgendering a person can be hurtful, even if accidental, and therefore normalising the act of considering the pronouns before you use them is a powerful step forward.
Whilst many organisations mandate the sharing of pronouns on email footers with the best intentions towards transgender and non-binary communities, it’s important to acknowledge that this initiative can have some unintended negative consequences too. There are two key points to consider here.
Firstly, for those who choose to conceal their identity, being asked to declare their pronouns can feel like a lose-lose situation; they must either out themselves in a way that may not feel comfortable or safe, or lie and have others misgender them on a regular basis. For those who have not disclosed their gender identity to others, stating the wrong pronouns on an email footer can serve as a persistent reminder of the disparity between how they identify and how others perceive them. Those within the transgender and non-binary community who do conceal their identity may therefore feel further excluded by this move towards public sharing of pronouns.
It’s important to acknowledge that when somebody does ask to be referred to by specific pronouns that they should be used, however, to be truly inclusive in our communication we cannot overlook the experiences of those who do not wish to share their pronouns.
Secondly, research shows that when aspects of our identity are made salient, stereotypes are more readily activated. The act of reminding somebody, or indeed simply reminding yourself, of your gender can increase the likelihood that stereotypes will be drawn upon in subsequent interactions. For example, we know that women are less likely to be offered a job if they include their gender on their CV, and it is for this reason that the practice of including gender on a CV is now considered to be outdated. Sharing pronouns on email footers not only opens the door for discrimination and exclusion based on gender, but can also lead to self-stereotyping which impacts self-confidence and performance.
So, my recommendations to employers would be educate staff on the importance of considering their use of pronouns and the impact of making automatic assumption; practice using more inclusive and gender-neutral language when communicating; don’t mandate the sharing of pronouns – give employees the option of doing this if they feel comfortable.