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Guidance note - gender pronouns

Why are gender pronouns important?

Norfolk County Council is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion. As a service provider and employer, we want people to be confident to be themselves.

If a person chooses to tell you their pronouns (in their email signature or phonebook entry, or when introducing themselves), they are simply letting you know how you can refer to them, without you having to make any assumptions.

What are pronouns (or “gender pronouns”)?

Pronouns are used in language all the time when we refer to ourselves or other people. Examples of pronouns you might use to refer to others are:

  • He/him/his (for someone who might identify as male)
  • She/her/hers (for someone who might identify as female)
  • They/them/their (for someone who might not identify as male or female, these pronouns are ‘gender neutral’; they are also used when referring to multiple people).

Why would someone tell you their gender pronouns or add their pronouns to their email signature?

Typically, we make automatic assumptions about what pronouns to use for someone. For example, if a person’s appearance seems to be female and they have a ‘female’ name, we’d be likely to use she/her/hers when talking to or about them. If a person’s appearance seems to be male and they have a ‘male’ name, we’d likely use he/him/his.

Some might ask: “Isn’t it obvious what pronouns to use for a person?” To answer this, yes, most people are privileged in that when someone guesses their pronouns, they’ll get them right. However, that’s not the case for everyone.

This is because not everyone identifies as male or female. Or, their appearance or name might not conform to ‘traditional’ ideas of male or female. Or their gender identity might not align with the way they appear to others.

So, when a person tells you their pronouns or includes them on their email signature they are simply taking the guesswork away for you.

If someone states their pronouns, does it mean they identify as non-binary, transgender or intersex?

Not at all. Many people state their pronouns. It is a way of contributing to an inclusive environment - one where non-binary [i], transgender [ii] and intersex [iii] colleagues and residents can feel they belong, are recognised and have a voice.

An inclusive community is made up of lots of small acts of respect between individuals on a day to day basis. Telling someone what gender pronouns you prefer or having pronouns in your email signature is just one of those acts.

For further information please contact

[i] Non-binary - a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine.
[ii] Transgender - an umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.
[iii] Intersex - people who have variations in sex characteristics

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