The Whiteboard

What Message Does Your Email Signature Send?

Happy New Year, everyone! Last year (and the one before it) definitely brought its share of challenges. With so many factors beyond our control — a lingering pandemic, disastrous weather events, global political divides — it’s easy to feel disheartened or unsettled. But I believe that every challenge holds hidden opportunities. So, my 2022 New Year’s resolution is to uncover those opportunities, starting with the way I communicate with colleagues, especially now that we don’t regularly work in the office together.

It’s no secret that we communicate subconsciously through our body language, our actions, and our words. But have you ever considered what your email signature says about you?

When I assumed the position of VMware CTO, one of my goals was to become the most effective ally I could be for underrepresented communities within our company, such as people with disabilities, people of color, women, and non-binary and transgender people. So I met with the leaders of VMware’s Power of Difference (POD) communities, which are focused on elevating the visibility of these groups to drive inclusion and positive business impact. These sessions were tremendously enlightening, providing me with a plethora of great ideas and action items.

Something small — but which I could do immediately and would be broadly visible — was to change my email signature.

The Pride POD leaders for the LGBTQ+ community told me that that naming your pronouns is a great way to become a visible advocate and ally. As a senior leader at VMware, I saw that I could model this behavior and normalize the practice. So I added my pronouns to my email signature (as well as to my Zoom/social media profiles and my presentations).

The leaders of the Asian POD mentioned that its members face constant challenges with people mispronouncing their names. They encouraged me to include both the phonetic spelling of my name and a link to an audio recording of me pronouncing it. As with pronouns, I saw this as a great opportunity to normalize the inclusion of this information.

Additionally, I often find myself working during off hours, such as late at night or on the weekends. I didn’t want people to feel obliged to immediately reply (as they sometimes do when they receive an email from an executive), so I included the sentences, “My working hours may be different than yours. Please do not feel obligated to respond outside your regular working hours.”

Most importantly, I added a link to a form where people can leave me anonymous feedback. And people use it. Every week, I receive four to six pieces of anonymous feedback or questions on a variety of topics, ranging from VMware strategy, to our benefits, to the priorities of the Office of the CTO (OCTO). It’s the perfect way to get unfiltered feedback to help me, OCTO, and the entire company improve. 

I hope that these changes communicate the value that I and VMware as a whole place on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I’m proud of our commitment to a culture that reflects these values. I invite you to use your email signature to do the same.

Read Kate Wilkinson’s latest reflections on OCTO’s 2021 DEI accomplishments, as well as our goals for 2022. And I invite you to leave me feedback, as well, in the comments below.

Again, I wish you a healthy, safe, and joyous New Year.




3 comments have been added so far

  1. Thank you for the engaging and inspiring meeting, Kit. Thank you for meeting with the leaders of each of our PODs, for listening, and for showing and explaining how a few changes to something we send with every single email can help others feel included and empowered to be their best and authentic selves. I know I have new ideas as well on how I can change my own signature! Thank you again, and I look forward to collaborating more.

  2. Love this write up. Gives us a peak into your inclusion journey. What a great model this is for leaders everywhere.

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