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I work at a major university. I have noticed that several employees have started including their preferred gender pronouns in the email signature, even if their physically observed gender is the same as the gender they identify with. For example:

John H. Smith
Major University
123 University Lane
Good City, AA 12345

Pronouns: he, him, his

I personally don't feel inclined to do this, but I don't want to be seen as being ignorant of modern-day practices. From what I know, no authority has explicitly directed them to do this.

Is this a modern day practice that I should follow?

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Don't give in to trends. There is already a backlash against this practice and engaging in it will likely cause more harm to you when the pendulum shifts the other way.

Taking all politics out of the mix, it's just sloppy. Anyone, if not sure, can address you by name. When this practice falls out of favor (and it will) you're going to be wondering why you ever even entertained it.

If it's not required, then don't do it. If this changes to a requirement, then I would advise to go with the flow to preserve your employment. If you find this practice intolerable, start applying elsewhere.

Since it seems optional right now, I'd avoid the practice in case some people are offended by it unless, of course you face backlash for not engaging in it.

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  • 3
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Oct 25 '17 at 17:18
  • This is common for people whose names don't make it obvious what the correct pronouns are, or where confusion exists for some other reason such as recent transition or being non-binary. It's not a fad and it's not sloppy, it's intended to avoid embarrassment by helping you use the correct pronouns when there is a possibility you may inadvertently not. – user Nov 23 '17 at 11:35
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If it's obvious by your name, there's no need to do this.

This is the first time I've ever seen this, so it's not common.

Bear in mind that if people at a university are doing this, it might be part of a study program. Or people might be doing it because they think they should.

If you're clearly male or female from your name, there's no need to pro-noun yourself, unless you explicitly want to be referred to by one of those pronouns, of course.

In short, use common sense. Question yourself before you think about adding this clause to your email:

Does adding this to my email actually help anyone? Who would be offended if I don't identify myself as conventionally gendered, and for what reason would they be offended?

Someone mentioned to me that the reason for everyone doing this is to be inclusive - so that non-conventionally gendered people aren't made to stand out for their decision to identify themselves.

The down-side to doing this is that everyone then has the same email footer and people will soon stop reading them when they realise that 95% of people are conventional. This will inevitably result in non-conventional people being inappropriately gendered when people ignore their gender declaration, unless they use different colours, and they'll stand out again.

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Should I have my email signature include my preferred gender pronouns, given that an appreciable amount of other employees are starting to?

I guess that is really your call. If you feel and want to do so go ahead, but if you are going to do it only because other people are doing it then I would leave it that way.

If you really think someone may have doubts about how to refer to you then it would be more recommended for you to include such pronouns, as to avoid possible uncomfortable situations.

Now, without meaning to dismiss this whole gender thing that has been gaining strength recently, I think this sort of things are not so important for the fight for gender equality. At least it may spare some unaware people uncomfortable situations, but in most cases one can infer what pronouns to use when talking to someone. If you can try to phrase your words in a gender neutral way.

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In other workplaces, this may not be showing up as a trend yet. However, in academia (at least in the US) it is becoming more common because it is more common among students. My institution now allows students to specify their preferred pronouns, and passes that information along to instructors with each class roster (along with preferred call name, if that is not the same as the legal name). Students also will sometimes include this information in their email signature, as a low-stress way to convey this information. I have students with non-obvious preferred pronouns, and appreciate having this information ahead of time.

In this context, it can be seen as polite to reciprocate with one's own pronouns, even if they match one's apparent gender. University faculty and staff who regularly communicate with students who include this information in their signature may naturally begin to include the information, as well. Early adopters may do so specifically to help normalize the practice, and later adopters may do so because the practice is already normalized in their milieu.

If you do not ordinarily work with many trans folks, and this is not really the norm at your institution (i.e., you see it in only a small fraction of your email correspondence), then it's highly unlikely that there would be any negative consequences for omitting it from your email. I can even imagine that there could be some negative consequences for including it, if it comes across as un-genuine or if you're mainly communicating with a more conservative audience.

On the other hand, if you do regularly work with trans folks, and especially if you're in a supportive role to many trans students, you might want to consider whether you want to adopt the practice, even if it isn't yet a widespread practice.

And finally, if there genuinely is a wider trend at your institution towards including this information in all email signatures, then you may want to reflect on why you don't want to, and what messages the lack of information may send about you. If it's truly a standard component of email signatures for folks in your institution, then leaving it out would be a bit like leaving out your office phone number or title: many people wouldn't even notice, but anyone who needed that information and expected to find it there would probably wonder why it was omitted. This is fine if there's a good reason to leave it out, but maybe more friction than its worth otherwise.

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