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The Importance of Personal Pronouns  

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  • Published on: June 30, 2022

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) understands that diversity is our strength and the key to continued innovation. At VA, we celebrate all voices and experiences of the individuals we serve and the colleagues we work with every day. One way we demonstrate respect for this diversity is by creating a space where individuals are free to express themselves and share their personal pronouns with one another.

VA implemented a technology solution that lets staff quickly and easily add personal pronouns to their VA display names without supervisor approval. Display names are used for employees’ email, in virtual meetings, and while using other digital tools.  To date, more than 22,000 VA staff have taken advantage of this feature.

“Sir” and “Ma’am” are a part of the everyday lexicon you will hear at VA, whether you are staff, a patient, or a visitor. The terms are used as a sign of respect to those being addressed; however, to some, they can feel like an injury when used incorrectly. When repeated over and over again, that injury can become serious and more painful.

The same applies when we make assumptions about or misuse pronouns which include “he,” “she,” “they,” and neopronouns. An example of a neopronoun is “ze, hir, hirs,” which is generally used by those who identify as non-binary, neither male nor female, and has been in use for over 150 years. This group may also use “they” as a singular pronoun which we do all the time when referring to individuals when context clues, used to assume gender, are absent. For example, when you ask a colleague “if their friend is coming to the work picnic?”

Sharing one’s personal pronouns during every conversation can be a stressful experience for employees who are regularly misgendered. To avoid this, many individuals share their personal pronouns on name tags, badges worn on a lanyard, or in their email signature line. By sharing personal pronouns, we are demonstrating respect for individuals, regardless of how they identify.

Although it is possible to misgender people who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community — for example, incorrectly using “Mr.” for an “Alex” or “Sam” who identifies as a female — most people think of sharing personal pronouns as an LGBTQ+ issue. While the LGBTQ+ community benefits from sharing personal pronouns, doing so takes the assumptions and guesswork out of our interactions with everyone when it comes to gender. All VA employees benefit from clear communication and a civil and compassionate workplace.

At VA, there are over 11,600 lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees and over 1,400 employees who identify as transgender according to the 2021 All Employee Survey. Sharing personal pronouns will help VA employees better communicate with each other, respect one another, and create a more welcoming workplace for all.

Our commitment to digital and IT transformation is shaped by daily dedication to customer service and the close collaboration of our workforce, managers, and leaders. Ready to join us in improving Veterans’ care? Check out all current information and technology career opportunities on DigitalVA. You can also contact VA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer at 512-326-6600, Monday thru Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST or by submitting a resume to VACareers@va.gov.

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Page last updated on July 6, 2022

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