Article Summary: Adding staff pronouns to your directory can communicate to everyone that you value diversity, and can not only take the guess work out of which pronoun to use for your staff, but also encourage people to use your staffs preferred pronoun.
However you should not force or pressure people to include their pronouns on your directory, and should remember that not everyone is comfortable sharing this kind of information in a public or professional setting.
Should I add pronouns to my staff directory?
As many countries and cultures become more accepting of gender fluidity, there’s been greater recognition of the need for more inclusive language. Part of this has been paying more attention to the pronouns that we use and recognizing that we shouldn’t assume that a person uses a specific set of pronouns.
While you may be personally choosing to add your pronouns to your email signature or zoom profile, many organizations are wondering if they should also be identifying staff pronouns on their staff directory pages.
What is a Pronoun?
Before we dive too much deeper into the ethics and implications of adding pronouns to staff directories, I want to take a minute to review what a pronoun is.
Merriam-Webster dictionary lists two definitions, but I believe it’s the second one that’s most applicable in this case:
pronouns plural: the third person personal pronouns (such as he/him, she/her, and they/them) that a person goes by
I tend to think of personal pronouns as the words you use when you’re referring to an individual without using their name. Most of us were taught that this meant using the pronouns he/him for people who are considered male, and she/her for people who are considered female. This language restricts us to two genders. This rigidity in our language fails to acknowledge that gender exists on a wide spectrum, and that people who fall on different ranges of the spectrum deserve to have terms that describe them when they don’t fall neatly into “male” and “female”.
So, like other changes in the English language, what’s happening now is that we are making adjustments to better suit our needs and changing culture. (If you’d like to read more about how and why English changes, the Linguistic Society of America has a wonderful article entitled Is English Changing? that’s worth a read.)
List of Pronouns
The use of different pronouns in the English language is still evolving and may continue to change over the next several years. Right now, some of the most common pronouns are:
- No pronoun
If you’re confused as to how to use these pronouns correctly when speaking to or writing about someone, mypronouns.org has a wonderful guide on how to use different pronouns.
Importance of Using Preferred Pronouns
Whether you’re speaking online or in person, it is important to always use a person’s preferred pronouns. At a basic level, using preferred pronouns shows respect and lets that person know that they are welcome in your work environment.
There have also been studies done that show that using a person’s preferred pronouns can help to lower depression and raise self-esteem (2016 gender affirmation study) and that the using gender-neutral pronouns make people more accepting toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities (2019 language influences study).
Pronouns On Your Staff Directories
Now that you know what pronouns are and why it’s important to use a person’s preferred pronoun, let’s look at some reasons why you may want to add pronouns to your staff directory, and some reasons why you might not.
Adding pronouns to your staff directory can:
- Convey a message that your organization values inclusiveness
- Encourage other staff, customers, volunteers, vendors, etc. to use your staff’s preferred pronouns
- Take the guess work out of how to address people in your organization
However, before you go about getting ready to add everyone’s pronouns, you need to make sure your staff actually want this information on your website. The fact of the matter is that not everyone is comfortable sharing their personal pronouns with the world and you need to be respectful of that.
What steps you would take next depend on personal preference and the size of your organization.
If your organization is relatively small, you could send out a survey where staff can anonymously let you know how they feel about adding pronouns to the public staff directory, and if they personally would feel comfortable adding pronouns.
If half of your organization or more is comfortable listing their pronouns, then you could create the ability to add pronouns to your directory, allowing people to send in their preferred pronouns if they choose to do so. You should make it clear that this is completely optional, and that staff will not be penalized for not sending theirs in.
If most staff would not feel comfortable sharing their pronouns, I would recommend making everyone aware that enough people didn’t feel comfortable sharing their pronouns publicly, and so you decided not to add it to the directory. For those that do feel comfortable sharing their pronouns, you can let them know you support them in listing their pronouns in their email signature and zoom (or other video conferencing) profile.
For large organizations, surveying your staff may be difficult or give you skewed results; consider a survey resulting in a slim majority of in-favor results from one or two departments while other departments completely disapprove. I wouldn’t recommend eliminating this issue by having people select their department in your survey because people in very small departments may feel like you can identify them.
Instead, I would recommend talking to your executives, and, if all of them are on board with listing their pronouns, allow everyone to have the option to include their pronouns on their directory page if so desired.
Whether your organization is small or large, you should never assume that someone is using a specific set of pronouns or try to correct a person’s pronouns. If you send out reminder emails that the pronoun option is available, make sure that you are clearly communicating that adding them is optional and, in general, try to keep to only one or two reminder emails so people don’t feel pressured.
Ways to Format Your Directories with Pronouns
There are two ways that I would recommend incorporating someone’s pronouns into the layout for your directory pages.
The first is with the pronouns directly under the name. They could be in the same font color, or slightly faded as I have in this example. I also recommend making the font slightly smaller, and closer to the name versus the job title because it will make it more apparent that the name and the pronouns go together.
The second option simply has the pronouns on the same line as the name with the same emphasis. This is a great option if you want to add pronouns but may not have the technical savvy to add a field if one is needed.