By Hugo Greenhalgh
LONDON, March 30 (Openly) - Professional networking site LinkedIn will let users add their preferred gender pronouns to accounts in the United States, Britain, Sweden, Canada and Ireland from Wednesday in a nod to global debate about what it means to be male or female.
Users in the five countries will now be able to say on their profiles whether they like to be referred to with the gender neutral they or them rather than he or him or she and her - a step the platform said responded to demand from members.
"Clearly members want to feel empowered about how they self-identify," said Bef Ayenew, head of engineering for identity and profile at LinkedIn, which has 738 million members in 200 countries and regions worldwide.
"We've already seen them 'hacking' their names and adding their gender pronouns because the feature itself was not available, so there is clearly an express need to do this within our member base," Ayenew told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
According to a survey conducted this month by the Censuswide consultancy, both hiring managers and job seekers showed strong approval for the inclusion of preferred pronouns on resumes.
Among those looking for jobs, 70% said they felt it was important for recruiters to know individuals' chosen pronouns, a statement 72% of prospective employers agreed with, adding that their inclusion "showed respect" for others.
Other social media platforms already allow users to opt for gender-neutral pronouns.
In 2014, Facebook announced a "new custom gender option to help you better express your own identity", the social media platform said at the time, allowing users to opt for non-binary definitions of their gender.
LinkedIn's decision to follow suit comes amid fierce debate in countries such as Britain and the United States over what it means to be a man or a woman, and how language and institutions should recognise non-traditional notions about gender.
Veteran British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said LinkedIn's move was to be "applauded", but sounded a note of caution.
"The fact that it's only being rolled out in (five) liberal countries begs the question: Why?" Tatchell said in emailed comments.
"One drawback might be that some employers who use LinkedIn to find new staff might baulk at hiring people who they deem to have the 'wrong pronouns'."
(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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