VA Employees and Contractors Can Now Add Pronouns to Digital Signatures

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More than 6,700 employees have already taken advantage of the feature.

Creating an organization that promotes a culture of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility for our nation’s Veterans builds trust, both with those we serve and with our workforce. In January 2022, the Department of Veterans Affairs updated Veterans’ health records to display gender identity, and today, in recognition of Transgender Day of Visibility, all VA employees and contractors have the option to add personal pronouns to their VA display name. 

Taking these actions are relatively minor technical solutions, but they are significant in signaling to the nation that we do not just talk about culture as a buzzword. At VA, we represent every Veteran we serve with respect and appreciation for who they are.  Correctly using pronouns is a simple way to show respect and cultivate an inclusive culture at VA for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) Veterans and employees. Correct pronoun use also enhances Veteran trust in VA service providers and makes it easier for more trans and gender diverse employees to come out at work.

This critical step forward also highlights how technology solutions can be impactful tools to ensure that all feel seen and recognized at VA, one of the largest federal departments and the nation’s largest healthcare system, with a civilian workforce of over 400,000 employees across the nation. This move is a first within the federal government, representing a growing effort within VA to meet President Biden’s goals of making a more inclusive work environment by promoting diversity and inclusion as ideals woven into the fabric of our mission. Utilizing a simple dropdown menu, users can display their personal pronouns, such as “he,” “she,” “they” or a neopronoun. An example of a neopronoun is “ze, hir, hirs,” which is generally used by those who identify as non-binary. Their display name is shown when they log on to their computer, send an email, participate in a Microsoft Teams meeting or complete other tasks and activities in a digital environment. 

Simply through word of mouth, this new feature has been used by more than 6,700 of our employees in the four weeks it has been available. The response from VA’s workforce has been extremely encouraging, and we are confident that a larger percentage will be enabling this feature with promotion of its availability.

Quite frankly, sharing one’s personal pronouns during every conversation can be a stressful experience for employees or Veterans who are regularly misgendered. To avoid this, many individuals have shared their pronouns on name tags, badges worn on a lanyard, or in their email signature line at VA. This simple feature takes that pressure off the employee to explain their pronouns to colleagues. 

Connecting employees’ names and pronouns increases visibility for transgender and non-binary employees, creates learning opportunities for cisgender employees, and establishes an employee experience and culture that respects and celebrates every employee’s gender identity. 

We know that improved outcomes begin when Veterans, clinicians, employees and everyone who works within the VA ecosystem is treated with dignity and respect the minute they step through our doors. VA will continue to build on these efforts to ensure that all employees and providers understand the impact and importance of civil, respectful and compassionate communication. 

At VA, we are humbled and honored to carry out our noble mission. We are proud to lead the way in creating tangible solutions that will foster Veteran trust and improve access to care, benefits and services, particularly for underserved communities.

Kurt DelBene is the chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs.