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Majority of Scottish Government civil servants say they'll never add pronouns to their email signatures

Majority of Scottish Government civil servants say they'll never add pronouns to their email signatures

More than half of all Scottish Government staff say they have no intention of using pronouns in their email signatures, according to a recent internal survey.

The rejection comes ahead of a new civil service ‘pronoun pledge initiative’, which aims to “promote diversity and encourage inclusivity within the Scottish Government” by educating and raising awareness of “gender identities and pronoun use across the organisation to create and foster an open culture that is supportive of the LGBTI+ Community”.

In a poll on the Scottish Government’s intranet, Saltire, on June 7, civil servants were asked: “Do you include your personal pronouns in your email signature?”

A total of 3278 people across the government and its partner agencies responded, with 17 per cent ticking the box that said yes, 25 per cent choosing “no, but they might in future”, and the remaining 58 per cent selecting “no and that they probably wouldn’t.”

Organisers of the government’s ‘pronoun pledge initiative’ hope they’ll be able to persuade more civil servants to adopt the practice over the next few months.

As part of the initiative, civil servants will be asked to “be more self-aware and mindful of gender assumptions they might make” and encouraged “to include personal pronouns in introductions and email signatures to normalise their inclusion.”

A second poll is due to be conducted in September to see if there’s any change in the numbers. 

However, internal correspondence, released to Holyrood under Freedom of Information legislation, showed that government staff working on the first poll were concerned about opposition to the proposal, and removed a comment option on the June poll to “minimise any negative responses.”

The Scottish Government’s staff LGBTI+ network also expressed concern about the survey, saying they worried it “could raise transphobic comments/pushback that will harm trans staff.” 

The network initially didn’t respond to “several” emails about the “plan, presentation and proposed wording for the poll” but on the day the survey went live on the intranet, a spokesman told organisers that it would be “worth thinking in advance about how you are going to deal with any pushback.”

They added: “You should, for example, monitor comments on saltire article and report any transphobic ones for takedown quickly to avoid harm to trans staff.”

The use of pronouns (she/her, he/him, they/them) in email signatures is becoming increasingly common.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights charity Stonewall says it “helps people respectfully refer to one another” and “helps staff avoid mistakes, like misgendering someone which can be especially hurtful for trans people, but also embarrassing for non-trans people.”

And last year, the BBC encouraged all staff to start including their pronouns in their email signatures, saying it was a “small, proactive step that we can all take to help create a more inclusive workplace” and would “help to create a culture where everyone feels comfortable introducing themselves with pronouns”.

However, the practice has a number of opponents. 

Debbie Hayton, a trans person and campaigner, warned that the proposal could have unforeseen consequences.

She told Holyrood: “The proliferation of pronouns is also unhelpful to trans people whose goal is to get on with life despite being trans. For trans people in the closet, they [pronouns] are excruciating.

"We have the choice of highlighting the very pronouns that are causing our dysphoria, or outing ourselves on the spot. Meanwhile, for those who have transitioned and moved on, pronouns are a reminder of the stress that should have been left behind.”

A spokeswoman for feminist campaign group ForWomen Scotland said: “It is frightening that the government would seek to politicise the civil service and co-opt public employees into an ideology that has no basis in law: this can only serve to undermine the impartiality and professionalism of the service. 

“We would go as far as to say that it is a deeply stupid and undemocratic proposal, pushing sexist, dystopian ideas which are profoundly at odds with truly liberal progressive goals. It is also further evidence that this government only pretends to consult and ditches any views which conflict with their predetermined policies.”


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