As a non-binary person, there is a long-running assumption that pronouns are all that we care about. For me, this assumption holds true, as pronouns are an important part of my identity.
Pronouns aren’t just for people like me, they also matter to Sapna, Kerry, Jean, Raj, Mia, Mania, Nikau, Rowan, Kristan - pretty much anyone with a name. Names can need context, especially when you’re working cross-culturally. A good example is the name Jean, which is typically a woman’s name in the UK and a man’s name in France.
If you are building software, it should easily allow anyone to put in their pronoun. When you ask for a name, provide an option for someone to add their pronoun too. That way I do not have to put my first name as Dr J (They) to get around your oversight.
Then have the pronoun show when people need it, like when they are adding me into a conversation.
Image of a mockup based on both Twitter and Google Chat - showing how Pronouns can be displayed when referencing a person in a message or conversation.
Simple, and ubiquitous.
Leaving pronouns out says to me that you don’t have a diverse workforce on your product. It tells me you don’t have an inclusive mindset in your teams.
If you don’t provide pronoun features in your free version then I often suggest we use the ‘Middle Name’ field for it - but this requires everyone using the system to know where to look, and how to use it. It also creates issues for those who use their middle names to differentiate between two people with the same first and last names.
Even if you pay for a product and finally get the ability to add extra fields, the information often remains visible only on your profile, and not in the places that would be valuable to other users. Slack is a good example of where this is the case.
These models tell me that you don’t see pronouns as important to include - which shows the diversity of thinking and experiences you have involved in making your software.
So what works?
Image of an internal tool at Thoughtworks which allows a user to specify their gender and their pronouns and how this is displayed within the tool
Thoughtworks have internal tools where I can add my pronoun(s) - choosing any of the three core pronouns, or specify my own if I use Zie or Per.
Displaying this information at the right time and context is the next big thing to do - adding it into my email and chat software - so my pronoun shows unobtrusively in the right context.
Ask a name, add a pronoun.
It’s simple, it’s smart, it’s what all the cool technologies are doing.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.