Conference anti-harassment policy
Inspired by multiple reports of groping, sexual assault, and pornography at open tech/culture conferences, the Ada Initiative co-founders helped write and promote an example conference anti-harassment policy for modification and reuse by conference organizers. This example was the collaborative effort of many different conference organizers and community members, who all deserve thanks and credit.
Since its publication in late 2010, over 100 conferences have adopted an anti-harassment policy of one kind or another. Several organizations have adopted a policy for all their events and run a dozen or more events per year. Some of the organizations that have announced that all their conferences will have a policy include Linux Foundation, ACM SIGPLAN, and O’Reilly. Here’s why some conferences have adopted a policy, in the organizers’ own words:
Tim O’Reilly: “[...] It’s become clear that this is a real, long-standing issue in the technical community. And we do know this: we don’t condone harassment or offensive behavior, at our conferences or anywhere. It’s counter to our company values. More importantly, it’s counter to our values as human beings.”
Jacob Kaplan-Moss, co-organizer of PyCon US, speaking for himself in this post: “A published code of conduct tells me that the conference staff cares about these issues, takes them seriously, and is waiting and willing to listen if an incident happens. Its by no means a solution to the depressing homogeneity of technical communities, but its a step in the right direction.”
ACM SIGPLAN: “This policy has been in the works at the ACM SIGPLAN for several months; SPLASH 2011 is proud to be both the driver for that effort and the first ACM conference with such policy in place. This policy is not a symbolic gesture, delivered to satisfy a perceived need for political correctness, but instead goes to the core of both our personal beliefs and the beliefs of the community as a whole.”
Like any good open source project, the policy has been forked, adapted, and rewritten from scratch several times. Conference organizers looking to adopt a policy now can choose from several different policies. Many policies are linked to from this list of conferences with a policy; if you know a conference that is missing, please add it!
Why write an example anti-harassment policy? What we discovered after a little research (aided by the timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities) was the following:
- Often, the person doing the groping, harassing, or showing of pornography honestly believed that their behavior was acceptable for the venue. Just as often, many other people went on record agreeing with them.
- People who saw these incidents didn’t know how to respond to these incidents or weren’t sure who to report them to.
- Conference organizers sometimes didn’t learn about an incident until long after it happened. When they did find out in time to take action, they often didn’t know how to respond to the incident.
We looked at these facts and figured it might help if conference organizers had an easy way to:
- Educate attendees in advance that specific behaviors commonly believed to be okay (like groping, pornography in slides, etc.) are not acceptable at this conference.
- Tell attendees how to report these behaviors if they see them, and assure them they will be treated respectfully if they do so.
- Have established, documented procedures for how the conference staff will respond to these reports.
But we knew that conference organizers are very busy people, and very few of them had the time to write something like this. We figured that if we wrote an example policy that could be easily adapted to their needs, we could save them a lot of time and energy, and reduce harassment at conferences at the same time.
It looks like we had the right idea! Now it’s almost easier to attend a open tech/culture conference with a policy than one without. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, from attendees of all genders to speakers to organizers, and especially conference sponsors. Sponsors like any way to reduce the chance that their name will be associated with bad press.
The Ada Initiative continues to work on promoting and improving the example conference anti-harassment policy, and is working on other related policies.
- Rebecca Watson of Skepchick: “Why would you want to hang out with those jerks anyway?”
- Clarification on the Ada Initiative’s role in the cancellation of Violet Blue’s BSides SF talk
- Keeping it on-topic: the problem with discussing sex at technical conferences
- How you can help #banboothbabes at CES
- In Arbeit: Das Ende von Sexismus in der Hackerkultur
- Ending sexism in hacker culture: A work in progress
- Re-post: Why conference harassment matters
- Chaos Communications Congress 29 becomes third hacker conference to ban harassment
- The Ada Initiative in October 2012: building friendlier events and communities for women with your help!
- Open source software: Open to all?
- Leading open source conference PyCon US shares response/report guidelines for harassment
- Freely available conference booklet template designed to welcome women
- Why publicize your conference policies? Hint: it does 90% of the work for you
- How stopping conference harassment changes open/tech communities at all levels
- The Ada Initiative in September 2012: Ada’s Angels and anti-harassment policy improvements
- Harassment report at your conference: what do you do???
- Report-out from BruCON, first hacker conference with anti-harassment policy
- We support DEFCON Kids – do we support DEFCON women?
- “Conferences are not intended to create bad memories, only good ones” DeepSec organizer René Pfeiffer
- When sex and porn are on-topic at conferences: Keeping it women-friendly
- Anti-harassment, hacker cons and fostering diversity: Ada Initiative news, August 2012
- Karen Sandler: “I was astounded by how many articulate amazing interesting women there were”
- Interview with BruCON organizers, winner of hacker conference anti-harassment policy challenge
- DEFCON: Why conference harassment matters
- Support anti-harassment policy adoption? Help improve our wiki resources.
- Ada Initiative news, January 2012
- Example conference anti-harassment policy turns one year old
- PyCon 2012 announces code of conduct
- O’Reilly Announces Anti-Harassment Code of Conduct
- Get your conference anti-harassment policy here!