We are often contacted by people who have been asked to share their pronouns at work meetings, add them to email signatures or use them in titles for online meetings.
We have produced this FAQs to help people respond to such requests both at work and in any other organisations they may be involved with.
This advice is for general information. You should seek specific legal or trade union advice if necessary.
My employer has asked everyone to put pronouns in our email signatures. I don’t feel comfortable with this. Can I refuse?
Freedom of speech is protected in the UK including the right not to say something that you disagree with or don’t want to say.
However, adopting this position in a workplace may be difficult and we know that increasingly employees and members of other organisations are coming under pressure to demonstrate their inclusivity and commitment to equality by using their pronouns on emails and in zoom meetings.
For a legal perspective see this blog by Legal Feminist.
There are plenty of other good reasons why you might not want to share your pronouns.
But surely, it’s a good indicator of an organisation’s commitment to equality and inclusion?
Compelled speech is not a good indicator of true commitment to equality and inclusion. On the contrary, it is failing to consider the needs and wishes of all employees or members.
There are many other ways an organisation can demonstrate a commitment to this. For example, ensuring the diversity of its members and service users or customers are represented in policy making or promotional materials; meeting the needs of people from different protected groups; ensuring the organisation has clear, legally compliant equality policies which are embedded in company practice.
Too often organisations engage in cheap, tick-box exercises which pretend to address equality issues without taking the fundamental steps necessary to bring about real and lasting change. That is what we want to see.
But if trans and non-binary people want us to share our pronouns, we should, shouldn’t we?
No-one should be compelled to share their pronouns if they do not want to. It is entirely unreasonable for anyone to make such a demand. People are free to share their own pronouns if they wish.
However, not all trans and non-binary people are comfortable with the expectation of sharing pronouns. Some are still working through a process of identification and will feel exposed or vulnerable themselves if forced to declare preferred pronouns. Others object to outing themselves in this way. And there will be others who simply do not feel comfortable making this demand of other people and just want to be respected and for their rights to be upheld.
I feel really uneasy about sharing my pronouns when there is so much sexism at work.
Many women do not want to draw unnecessary attention to their sex in the workplace and are concerned that doing so will result in more stereotyping, sexual harassment and sex discrimination. It seems odd to insist that women, in particular, who are victims of oppressive practices and behaviours, are being asked to emphasise their sex in professional communications. Truly progressive organisations are looking more carefully at tackling discrimination such as anonymised recruitment processes and how to make meetings more inclusive.
I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
No-one wants anyone to feel uncomfortable at work. Insisting everyone identifies their pronouns may well have the opposite effect and cause tension and conflict. Organisations should do what they can to eliminate discrimination and foster good relations between everyone. This needs to be done by balancing the rights and needs of all employees and members of any organisation.
This is good advice from practising discrimination solicitor Audrey Ludwig, on how organisations can ensure their policy and practice is Equality Act compliant.
I am an employer and some of my staff have proposed that the company adopts a policy that requires all employees to use pronouns in communications. Is this something we have to do?
It is not reasonable or fair for an employer to expect any member of staff to share their ‘preferred’ pronouns on communications. Employers have a duty to ensure that all staff are treated fairly and in line with the law. Insisting that employees use their pronouns may make people uncomfortable and create conflict between different groups of people.
The use of pronouns is a political statement as they suggest a belief that gender identity overrides sex and it would be inappropriate for an employer to compel any member of staff to indicate a political position in the course of their duties.
As we have said in the answers above, there are a multitude of reasons why someone may not feel comfortable with such a request and we believe any attempt at compulsion may be a breach of the law.
If your organisation is covered by the Public Sector Equality Duty, you have an obligation to:
- eliminate discrimination
- advance equality of opportunity
- foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities
The Equality Duty applies across Great Britain to the public bodies listed in Schedule 19 (as amended), and to any other organisation when it is carrying out a public function.
Even if your organisation is not legally bound by this duty, it would be exemplary practice for any employer or leader to ensure that everyone’s rights are upheld and that staff are able to work together in a mutually respectful way.
This is for general information. You should seek specific legal or trade union advice if necessary.
Updated 27th June 2021
For a legal perspective see this blog by Legal Feminist
For issues around using the pronouns of others at work see this blog by Audrey Ludwig
Sex Matters have produced this guide to Pronouns at Work
Here are some other WPUK articles relating to the law and legal rights
We believe that it is important to share a range of viewpoints on women’s rights and advancement from different perspectives. WPUK does not necessarily agree or endorse all the views that we share.