Using gender pronouns in email signatures

[Update]: This blog post was updated on July 09, 2021.

Gender pronouns are becoming an essential part of every professional email communication and companies now tend to include gender information in their email signature policy. In this article we’ll highlight the importance of gender pronouns and show you how to use them in email signatures in your organization.

Gender pronouns in email signatures - featured image

The importance of gender pronouns

Pronouns in email signatures show how the email senders identify themselves and how they would like to be referred to in the third person. Using them in email signatures can send a message that the company is inclusive of everyone and acknowledges gender diversity. On the other hand, some people might not be comfortable adding those pronouns to their signature. Take this into account and be sensitive when making the decision to include gender pronouns in email communication. And remember, pronouns alone shouldn’t be treated as the company’s only effort to be more inclusive of gender identity.

Adding gender pronouns to email signatures can make things easier and save time. Some people spend a lot of time wondering how to address the person they are writing to. Wrongly assuming someone’s gender can have a horrible impact on the first impression and might even hurt someone’s feelings. To remedy this problem, some people try to avoid using pronouns at all costs. The result – rephrasing an email – might take even more time and, in some cases, can end with the message sounding simply awkward.

Examples of gender pronouns in signatures

How you add pronouns to your email signature template depends highly on your signature design. Pronouns should form an integral part of the signature. If you decide to include gender pronouns in your email signature, it’s best to add them next to your name. That’s where most people expect to see this information.

See the examples below to learn how to best include gender pronouns in email signatures:

Sample signature 1

Gender pronouns in email signatures - example 1

Sample signature 2

Gender pronouns in email signatures - example 2

Sample signature 3

Gender pronouns in email signatures - example 3

How to set up

Now that I’ve explained the basic concept, I’ll show you how to set up signatures with gender pronouns for the whole company. Since setting it up is a bit different for Microsoft 365 and Exchange Server, I’ll present a separate guide for both platforms to you.

But before I start, whichever platform I use, I need to gather information from employees about which pronouns they want to have included in their signatures. In this example, I’ve sent a survey to all employees with the following options to choose from:

  • (he/him/his)
  • (she/her/hers)
  • (they/them/theirs)
  • I’d rather not have any pronouns included

I’ve gathered all the replies in a CSV file with two columns: User (represented by the user’s UPN) and Pronouns with possible values: (he/him/his), (she/her/hers), (they/them/their), blank. Here’s how a sample CSV file looks like, viewed in Microsoft Excel:

Sample CSV file with gender pronouns

You can download the sample CSV file here. But there is a much better way than relying on the sample file. I’ll show you how to create a pre-filled CSV file using PowerShell.

Before I begin, I need to connect to Exchange (Online) or run Exchange Management Shell. When I have my console running and connected, I can use the following script:

get-mailbox | select @{n="User";e={$_.UserPrincipalName}},@{n="Pronouns";e={""}} | export-csv c:\pronouns.csv -NoTypeInformation

This script creates a CSV file with two columns:

  • The User column prefilled with UserPrincipalName of all mailboxes in your organization.
  • The Pronouns column without any values.

I can use a different location for the output file (c:\pronouns.csv in this example), filter mailboxes to include only user mailboxes (add the “-RecipientTypeDetails UserMailbox” attribute to the Get-Mailbox cmdlet) and so on.

After the file is created, all I need to do is open the generated file, specify values in the Pronoun column for each user and save the file. After that, I’m ready for the next, environment-specific steps:

How to set up gender pronouns in Microsoft 365

I’ll give you two examples on how to get this done. In both of them, a company called Company is using Microsoft 365 for their email needs and manages email signatures using CodeTwo Email Signatures for Office 365. This service lets admins update email signatures for the entire company in a matter of seconds, regardless of email clients and devices used to communicate.

The following two methods require admin access to the Microsoft 365 tenant.

Using Groups and Conditional Placeholders

In this method, I will create 3 distribution groups in Microsoft 365, add members based on the CSV file and configure an email signature rule to add pronouns to user’s email signatures.

First, I connect to my Microsoft 365 tenant using the Exchange Online PowerShell module (see instructions on how to do this). Then, I import the survey’s results from the CSV file (see how to create a CSV file):

$pronouns = (import-csv C:\pronouns.csv)

After the results have been imported, I create 3 distribution groups:

New-DistributionGroup -Name "Pronoun-He" -Members ($pronouns | where -property pronouns -like "*him*").user;
New-DistributionGroup -Name "Pronoun-She" -Members ($pronouns | where -property pronouns -like "*her*").user;
New-DistributionGroup -Name "Pronoun-They" -Members ($pronouns | where -property pronouns -like "*they*").user;

Now, I open the CodeTwo Email Signatures for Office 365’s Manage Signatures App and select a signature rule I want to use. Then, I go to the Design tab and click Edit signature to open the Signature template editor.

Gender pronouns - Access Signature template editor

When the editor opens, I need to add a new conditional placeholder. To do so, I go to Placeholder > Conditional Placeholders > Manage.

Gender pronouns - Manage conditional placeholders

In the Conditional placeholders manager, I add a new conditional placeholder, name it pronouns and add placeholder rules, as shown below. I leave the default placeholder value empty. With the current setup, if a user is a member of one of the groups – they will have their gender pronouns added to their signature. If someone is not a member of any of those groups, they will receive a default (blank) placeholder. After I finish setting up placeholders, I click Save to close the manager.

Gender pronouns - add pronouns placeholder

Finally, in the editor’s main window I put the cursor where I want the new placeholder to be and add it by clicking Placeholder > Conditional placeholders > pronouns.

Gender pronouns - add pronouns placeholder 2

Now I can save the template, close the editor and apply changes to the signature-adding service.

Learn more about using Conditional placeholders

Using Custom Attributes

In this example, I will add custom attributes to user’s mailboxes and use them in an email signature rule afterwards.

As a reminder, I have a CSV file with all my users and the pronouns they wish to have in their email signatures.

Like in the previous method, first I need to start a remote connection with Exchange Online (see instructions on how to do this). Next, I’m importing values from my CSV file and upload them to my users’ custom attributes. In the example, I have my CSV file in C:\pronouns.csv and I’m using CustomAttribute7:

$pronouns = (import-csv C:\pronouns.csv);
foreach ($user in $pronouns) {Set-Mailbox $user.user -CustomAttribute7 $user.pronouns}

Now, I open the Manage Signatures App and edit the email signature rule to which I want to add pronouns. To do so, I go to the Design tab and click Edit signature.

Gender pronouns - Access Signature template editor

In the signature template editor, I put the cursor where I want the new placeholder to be located in my signature. Then, I use the placeholder menu to add the custom attribute I’ve just modified in PowerShell (in this example it’s CustomAttribute7) as shown in the image below.

Gender pronouns - add a custom attribute

After I’m done, I need to save changes, close the Signature template editor and Apply the changes to CodeTwo Azure Service.

Learn more about using custom attributes

The result

Regardless of which method you choose, all of your users should have their pronouns automatically added to their email signatures. Like this:

Gender pronouns - email signature preview

Thanks to CodeTwo Email Signatures for Office 365, every user in your organization can have a personalized email signature containing their preferred gender pronouns. The signatures are managed centrally without user involvement, making sure that no employee is excluded and that the signatures will work on every device and in every email client.

How to set up gender pronouns in Exchange Server

If your company uses Exchange Server, there are two easy ways to add gender pronouns to each email signature. The only requirement is to manage email signatures centrally with CodeTwo Exchange Rules. Thanks to this program, you can set up and update email signatures for each and every user. These signatures are added on the server level, so it doesn’t matter what devices and email clients are used in the organization – the right and up to date signature will be there each time.

Creating dedicated distribution groups and conditional placeholders

In this method, I’ll create 3 distribution groups, based on the CSV file I’ve created earlier. In my Exchange Management Shell, I run the following code:

$pronouns = (import-csv C:\pronouns.csv)

After the contents of the table have been imported, I create 3 distribution groups:

New-DistributionGroup -Name "Pronoun-He" -Members ($pronouns | where -property pronouns -like "*him*").user;
New-DistributionGroup -Name "Pronoun-She" -Members ($pronouns | where -property pronouns -like "*her*").user;
New-DistributionGroup -Name "Pronoun-They" -Members ($pronouns | where -property pronouns -like "*they*").user;

Now I can check if the DGs have been correctly populated using the Get-DistributionGroupMember cmdlet:

Get-DistributionGroupMember “Pronoun-He”

If everything seems fine, I can launch my CodeTwo Exchange Rules Administration Panel, choose the signature rule I want to modify and go to Actions > Insert signature > Edit:

01 - Exchange Rules Pro, edit signature rule

In the signature template editor, I go to Placeholder > Conditional placeholder > Manage:

02 - Exchange Rules Pro, manage conditional placeholders

Now, I need to add a new placeholder using the plus button (1). After providing the name for the new placeholder, I click OK (2) and create a new placeholder rule using the plus button on the right (3):

03 - Exchange Rules Pro, add a gender pronoun placeholder

In the Placeholder rule conditions builder window, I choose the condition Sender is a member of group and select one of the distribution groups I’ve created earlier. Next, I click OK to select the group and OK again to create the first placeholder rule. I need 3 separate rules, each with one of the Pronouns groups.

04 - Exchange Rules Pro, define dynamic placeholder condition

When three conditions are specified, I specify placeholder values for each group and leave default as blank (for those who have chosen not to specify their pronouns preferences). I click Save to create the pronouns conditional placeholder:

05 - Exchange Rules Pro, add placeholder values

Now, I move the cursor to the location I want pronouns to appear in the signature and go to Placeholder > Conditional placeholders > Pronouns:

06 - Exchange Rules Pro, pronouns conditional placeholder

If I ever need to update the pronoun values for any user, I will remove them from one distribution group and add to another.

Using Extension Attributes

Another way to add pronouns to each email signature in the company is using Exchange Extension Attributes (or custom attributes). The easiest way to set them up is to use PowerShell via the Exchange Management Shell:

$pronouns = (import-csv C:\pronouns.csv);
foreach ($user in $pronouns) {Set-Mailbox $user.user -ExtensionCustomAttribute5 $user.pronouns};

I can verify if pronouns have been correctly added by using the following cmdlet:

get-mailbox | select UserPrincipalName,ExtensionCustomAttribute5

Now, I run the CodeTwo Exchange Rules Pro Administration Panel and edit the email signature template in the rule of my choice:

01 - Exchange Rules Pro, edit signature rule

Now, all I need to do is place the cursor whereever I want the pronouns to show up and click Placeholder > Message Sender > Exchange Attributes > ExchAttr5 (or any other extension attribute I’ve updated earlier):

07 - Exchange Rules Pro, Custom Extension attribute

Optionally, if pronouns are added in a separate line or have a signaling phrase before them (like Pronouns:), I can add a Remove Text tag. This way, if the attribute value is empty, the additional line and the signaling phrase will not be added:

08 - Exchange Rules Pro, RT tags

After I’m done, I apply the changes in the signature template editor using the Apply & Close button and submit changes to CodeTwo Exchange Rules Service.

The result

No matter which method was used to add the gender pronouns, they will be added to the specified users’ email signatures. Here’s an example of how it can look:

09 - Sample email signature with gender pronouns

CodeTwo Exchange Rules can be used by organizations to centrally manage their email signatures. It lets companies of all sizes ensure unified brand identity and email compliance, while allowing IT to save a lot of time and resources.

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Read also

CodeTwo Email Signatures for Office 365 is the world-leading and highest rated email signature solution for Microsoft 365 & Office 365. It’s a cloud service deployed on Microsoft Azure in a region of customer’s choice, backed up by world’s only 4-level security system compliant with ISO/IEC 27001 & 27018 and a free 1-year Microsoft 365 data backup service, which makes it the most secure signature software on the market. Our product is co-engineered with Microsoft and awarded by Microsoft for exceptional Customer Experience.

CodeTwo offers solutions for organization-wide email signature management, data backup and migration for Microsoft 365 & Exchange Server, developed for 15 years and used by over 90k organizations worldwide, including Facebook, Samsung and UNICEF.

One thought on “Using gender pronouns in email signatures

  1. Just a note (this doesn’t have to be approved as a comment, but considered as a suggestion for editing the post) the language of ‘preferred’ pronouns and ‘gender’ pronouns is outdated and borderline offensive.

    Preferred signals that the pronouns in the signature are just a convenience, and leave space for intentional misgendering. One’s pronouns are not a preference, but a fact.

    Gender pronouns is a tautology, saying the same thing twice. It also inextricably links pronouns with transgender people (as the transphobic arguments claim that cis people don’t have a gender, they just have a sex) while in reality *everyone* has pronouns.

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