How can your email signature support your trans colleagues? – Mental Health At Work
30/10/2020

How can your email signature support your trans colleagues?

Beckett Frith
Beckett Frith

Senior Content Officer, Mental Health at Work

All of us use pronouns every day. They’re the words we use in place of other words – for example, “Gill bought a teapot, because she liked it”. For most of us, we don’t even think about them very much – but if you are transgender or non-binary, or your pronouns aren’t the ones people assume you use, you might find people mistakenly use pronouns that are incorrect or even hurtful.

Although I have a masculine name, if you met me in person or heard me speaking on the phone, you might not realise I use he/him pronouns. I’m transgender, but I haven’t yet had any medical treatment which would affect my body or voice. While I’m always happy to mention it to people in conversation, it can be harder to do over email – so by including my pronouns in my email signature, I hope people will notice and be able to use the pronouns which make me feel comfortable.

But there are many other reasons why people might include their pronouns in their email signature. I spoke to four of my colleagues within Mind, the mental health charity, who also include them to find out why they have chosen to.

I would like letting people know your pronoun to be as customary as telling them your name.

Like me, Edward Whelan is a transgender man. However, he’s a lot further along in his transition than me, so people will most likely use he/him pronouns for him without any prompting. “I include them in my email signature not because I think someone might get them wrong, but to normalise the practise,” he explains. “I would like letting people know your pronoun to be as customary as telling them your name. Likewise, when introducing someone. This way, it reduces the chance of getting someone’s pronoun wrong.”

And it’s not just trans people who include their pronouns in their email signature. Many cisgender colleagues have also chosen to include them, to help the practise become more common. Robyn Guillaume-Smith says she has two main reasons for choosing to add them to hers. “I think it’s inclusive and shows respect and support to my trans and non-binary colleagues,” she explains. “Plus, with an androgynous name which is often misspelt, I think it’s useful to confirm my pronouns!”

An email signature showing pronouns

Tom Fish started highlighting his pronouns in his email signature a few years ago in solidarity with LGBTIQ+ colleagues. “It takes seconds to do, and is really no effort at all, but it can help someone who is non-binary or transgender feel more comfortable in your workplace,” he says. “It also helps to normalise the idea that someone might not have the pronouns that you expect them to upon first meeting them, and so again can go a long way to making non-binary or transgender people more comfortable highlighting their pronouns.”

And Anoushka Bonwick told me she added her pronouns to her signature as a way to combat assumptions people make automatically, which might not be helpful. “As a society, we have been unconsciously conditioned to make swift and generalised assumptions about when meeting someone for the first time that are solely based on visible appearance,” she explains. “These assumptions may be made without malice or intent to harm, but, nevertheless, being referred to by a pronoun that doesn’t describe you in the way you see yourself will still hurt.”

I hope both colleagues and clients feel seen, comfortable and safe.

Edward adds that it can be awkward when someone starts using a new pronoun for the first time, so adding it in a place anyone you communicate with can see is one way to get the word out without having to make a big announcement. “It takes the burden off the trans or non-binary person in the room to have to out themselves, or draw attention to themselves, by always being the one talking about pronouns,” he says.

This isn’t something that is only happening within Mind – many other organisations have encouraged staff to share their pronouns if they choose to. Plus, including them in external communications can help normalise the practice in other workplaces too. “By specifying the pronouns that we feel best represents ourselves, through using them in your email signature or in your name on a zoom meeting, I hope both colleagues and clients feel seen, comfortable and safe to use their pronouns within our place of work,” explains Anoushka.

Colleagues support each other.

And Tom says that no matter where he works in the future, he always intends to include his pronouns in his signature. “Because it is such an easy thing for me to do, and it makes colleagues feel more comfortable and included, it is something I will always do in any workplace from now on. I would urge you to do the same,” he says.

I can say from experience that having colleagues and work connections use the right pronouns for you feels like a weight being lifted from your shoulders. It reduces my anxiety, helps me to feel like I can bring my full self to work, and feel like a valued member of the team.

If you’d like to support your trans and non-binary colleagues, adding your pronouns to your signature is a simple, quick and powerful move. It’s a little change that can have a big impact.

A man smiles at his computer.