NASA employees at the Goddard Space Flight Center, one of the agency’s major research facilities, have reported on social media that NASA leadership has removed their ability to display pronouns after their names in their online IDs.
Until last week, employees were able to add their pronouns, if they wanted to, after their name and before their center affiliation. They would appear in emails and Microsoft Teams, which would be particularly useful during large virtual meetings. The possibility of doing that was taken away from those people.
“In a sweeping move, NASA Agency Leadership removed displayed pronouns from all of our IDs. All on the basis that our display of pronouns made other employees uncomfortable and equated our displaying of pronouns to that of Sports Team Pride,” a post on Reddit states.
“They also tried to make the justification that the agency couldn't spare any resources for this initiative (this doesn't cost anything). They did this all through a meeting, which they refused to let anybody record, and also refused to put a rationale for the decision in writing.”
Displaying pronouns has become more popular in the last decade or so, trailblazed by trans and non-binary people. As often is the case, its use has helped many others who don’t identify as such. People whose names are gender-ambiguous (e.g. Alex) or are common for one gender in one country but not in another (e.g. Ashley, Andrea) – or even names originating from other languages so English-only speakers might not associate them to a particular gender – all benefit from the option to state their pronouns.
IFLScience contacted NASA Goddard to understand what took place and what were the reasons behind the decision to remove the pronouns. And received this statement in reply.
“Through an effort to create a more inclusive workplace, NASA recently completed an IT project at Goddard Space Flight Center that allowed approximately 125 employees to test the option of including their gender pronouns in NASA’s email display fields – which currently includes each employee's name, center, and an organizational code. The learnings from this test will be used to inform the advancement of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility,” Steve Shih, NASA Associate Administrator for Diversity and Equal Opportunity said.
“NASA is fully committed to supporting every employee's right to be addressed by their preferred name and pronouns. All NASA employees currently have the option and flexibility to include their gender pronouns in their customized email signature blocks. This option remains unchanged and is supported by NASA leadership so that employees can share their gender identities and show allyship to the LGBTQIA+ community.”
The statement doesn’t address the issues raised in social media posts. IFLScience has asked follow-up questions regarding the nature of the IT project, if those that took part were aware that it had a time limit, and when exactly the “learnings” mentioned will be shared.
The American Physics Society reported in 2015 that 40 percent of trans workers in physics departments are misgendered in their workplace. IFLScience also asked what actions is the agency taking to protect trans and non-binary employees.