Pronouns: she/she/her. Noa* has chosen to add the list of pronouns she identifies with in her email signature. Tired of being misgendered at work because of her mixed first name, Noa isn’t the only one embracing this movement that promotes diversity and inclusion – even if it’s controversial.

“Who wants to be called sir or be called ‘he’ and ‘him’ when it doesn’t match their identity? says Noa*, a 30-year-old Montrealer who works in customer service at a major fashion retailer.

When her employer held an information session to educate employees in all departments to take small steps to foster diversity and inclusion within the company last fall, Noa jumped at the chance. : she took the training.

It was there that she learned that she could indicate, in her professional signature automatically attached to her emails, her pronouns. “It’s a small gesture that basically clarifies and simplifies the exchanges for me, she says, but also for trans or non-binary people. »

According to Sandrine Devillard, senior partner at consulting firm McKinsey and co-author of the Diversity at Work in Canada report published in January 2022, the identification of pronouns in professional emails is still not very widespread in Canada: between 10 and 20% of companies that have undertaken equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives have adopted this measure.

For 23 years, Ms. Devillard has been interested in these issues. “For me, it’s a matter of basic ethics,” she explains. Every human being deserves to be treated as they should be, regardless of race, religion, orientation, gender identity. That should suffice as an explanation. »

This is the opinion of Jean-Michel*, a 48-year-old Laval resident and entrepreneur in the IT industry. “When I see this in emails from my clients or suppliers, I find it ridiculous,” he comments. Seems like they want attention or are putting themselves in a box. I don’t identify by sex or gender, so why would I publicly disclose that in my emails? »

The question is not quite there since it is not individual, advances Fran Delhoume, analyst at URelles, a firm specializing in EDI. According to her, the purpose of this practice is to normalize diversity in gender identification and to share responsibility. “When a cisgender person says their pronouns,” she says, “it sends the message that conversation is possible and safe. But of course, we are not forcing anyone. »

This makes it possible to avoid misgendering, this action of designating a person by a gender that does not correspond to their gender identity. It happened to Sam*, a trans woman who works in the financial community in Montreal. “My transition is complete, but along the way, my voice sounded like a man’s even though I sounded like a woman,” the 40-year-old says. When I spoke with clients on the phone, the gendering was almost automatic, even if I know it was involuntary. »

A situation that has arisen over time, she says, and which has been alleviated by the identification of pronouns in her email signature.

According to Mylène de  Repentigny-Corbeil, executive director of the charity Les 3 sex*, the practice also alleviates the anxiety that trans, non-binary, racialized or immigrant people can feel … just like the anxiety for the person who comes into contact with them!

“It avoids perpetuating the discomfort,” she points out. Basically, it’s a small action accessible to everyone that allows a more inclusive environment, in addition to opening up dialogue. And let’s not forget that this includes more people than we think… while penalizing very few people. »

In companies, the introduction of this practice requires awareness, education and training.

Gender identity has nothing to do with sexual orientation, Ms. Delhoume reminds, adding that “all social change takes time and brings a period of adjustments”.

“It’s not a fad, concludes Ms. de Repentigny-Corbeil, it’s an enduring practice. »