Why Asana Decided to Add a Pronoun Field in Profile Settings

May 9th, 2018
3 min read
Add pronouns to your profile

Many interactions are increasingly (or exclusively) digital and global. While technology has made communication faster and easier in many ways, it also forces us to rely on small avatars and quick assessments of profile details that paint very incomplete pictures of who we are. Given that Asana is a platform for collaboration and communication, we realized we could do one small thing towards fixing the problem by adding a field to specify pronouns in your Asana profile. This leads to more effective communication overall, and helps build a more inclusive workplace.

Why add pronouns to Profile Settings?

Pronouns are a shorthand way to refer to someone: she, he, they, ze (to name just a few). They can be (but aren’t always) gendered, which requires some knowledge about the person being discussed to use them correctly.

Sometimes your name and role aren’t enough for others to refer to you—pronouns are an important part of that equation. It’s uncomfortable and unprofessional to not address someone how they should be addressed. Using the right pronouns is a way to make everybody feel seen and respected. They make communication easier and clearer for everyone in your organization.

It’s uncomfortable and unprofessional to not address someone how they should be addressed.

Unfortunately, many transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals are not addressed correctly in the workplace. They’ve overcome incredible discrimination to simply get hired only to experience further harassmentEven in supportive environments, they can still expect uncomfortable conversations, one of them being around pronouns.

Getting it wrong can disrupt projects, teamwork, and achieving overall goals, not to mention sending the wrong message to employees if they feel unsupported. It takes a toll to constantly have to explain and correct others, and it changes how people interact. We think this small feature can lead to better communication for everyone.

In launching this, we want to stay current on an issue that’s important to Asana, our employees, and customers. While many companies have already introduced pronoun fields, it’s not as common as it should be across platforms, so we hope this provides an easy precedent to follow.

How did we implement the pronoun field?

To better understand how the feature came to be, I sat down with Elden (they/them/theirs), the engineer who championed and created it.

Scaling good intentions

When Elden started at Asana a few years ago, their manager took time and care to ensure they had a proper introduction and that teammates received training about gender-neutral pronouns and inclusivity. It set the right tone, and made Elden feel welcome. Even when the occasional awkward moment happened, Elden felt supported to bring up their discomfort instead of letting it go unnoticed.

But as Asana continued to grow, not everyone got to have one-on-one interactions with Elden, especially outside the engineering team. Elden had to go more and more out of their way to introduce themself. So they got the idea to call out their pronouns directly in their name field of Asana. That’s when they got the idea to add it as its own field in My Profile Settings.

Technical considerations

Elden searched in Asana to see if they could find any existing tasks or projects around this feature and saw that there had been some discussion in the past, but it wasn’t actioned.

So for the next hackathon, they created and tested the first iteration, which was a text box for pronouns. Simple enough. But to ship it to customers, there were a few more things to consider: would we want to use the data in a structured way? Would a drop-down be better? Would our global customer base understand it? What if the text box got misused?

Ultimately, the team decided to keep it as a free-form text box. A drop-down seemed limiting—we didn’t want to be exclusive in our efforts to be inclusive by not including all pronouns. Drop-downs also brought translation questions: how would we translate the drop-down options across every language? Since pronouns are very personal, we wanted to make sure they were exactly how people needed them.

We didn’t want to be exclusive in our efforts to be inclusive by not including all pronouns.

Unfortunately, answering these questions took far more time and deliberation than we wanted. The feature got backlogged a few times as we tackled bigger features on our roadmap. Finally we shipped it, acknowledging that we need to move faster on decisions like these.

Read the doc with more details about our decision and implementation process.

How to set your pronouns in Asana

Setting your pronouns in Asana is simple. Once you set your pronouns, we recommend encouraging your teammates to do it too. It might not be something they normally specify, but it sends a welcoming message, and makes communication clearer. It might even be a chance to start conversations around inclusivity in the workplace.

My profile settings with pronouns

Set your pronouns in Asana in just a few clicks:

  1. Click your avatar in the top right corner of Asana.

  2. Click My Profile Settings in the drop-down menu.

  3. Type your pronouns into the field beneath Department in the pop-up dialog.

  4. Now any time someone hovers over your avatar, your pronouns will show up on your profile card.

Hovercard with pronouns

Pronouns in profile settings is a small example of how a more diverse workplace can influence the inclusivity of your product for the better. We want to continue learning and improving the accessibility of our product to set the bar for what a diverse and inclusive workplace (and platform) can look like. Just as we want our workplace to be one where everybody is addressed and seen as who they are, we want to help all Asana users have that too.

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