Report-out from BruCON, first hacker conference with anti-harassment policy

BruCONWim Remes, an organizer of the BruCON security/hacker conference, sent us a report on how having an anti-harassment policy affected last week’s BruCON conference. BruCON is the winner of our hacker conference policy challenge back in August: We pledged to promote the first hacker conference to adopt a specific, public, enforceable anti-harassment policy.

Wim reports “Having a policy didn’t change the overall atmosphere of the conference AT ALL! If anything, I would say that it helped to create awareness of the issue and allowed everybody to discuss it.” For context, here’s this review of BruCON 2011 by Security Ninja: “I had a great time and I have to thank the people who made BruCON happen, it was one of the best conferences I’ve attended!” Many hacker conference attendees argue that harassment is a required part of hacker culture; BruCON continues to prove this wrong.

Wim also reports that having a policy made him think harder about conference entertainment. “It made me more aware of the issue. While planning our party, I contracted a professional entertainment company to provide dancers and hosts/hostesses. I specifically requested a 50/50 balance between male and female dancers/hosts/hostesses and the organizer mentioned she was not used to this type of requests (mostly female hostesses/dancers are requested) but was happy to oblige. The team mentioned afterwards that the BruCON audience was one of the most respectful audiences they have ever worked for.”

BruCON has an impressive percentage of women speakers and workshop organizers: 33% (1 out of 3 keynote) speakers was a woman, as were 18% (3 out of 17) of speakers and 21% (4 out of 19) workshop organizers . Wim reports, “While I did prod some [women] to submit to our CFP, all of them were vetted by the CFP team and made it to the schedule on their own strength.” This is standard practice for conferences wanting to increase women speakers: personally encourage women to submit talks, then judge all submissions entirely on merit.

The organizers heard of only one minor incident, swiftly handled by the person herself referring to the anti-harassment policy. An attendee made a remark that made a woman attendee uncomfortable. She reminded him of the policy and got an instant apology. She was quite happy with the result and the ability to refer to the policy.

This is how policies change the conversation: it turned at least one woman’s experience from a negative, unwelcoming one to a positive reminder that she was welcome at the conference.

Wim summarizes: “In general, the feedback about BruCON is that it is a conference where you feel amongst friends if not family. To keep that atmosphere, I’m happy that we have created a tool that can allow us to manage the issue as we grew.”

Finally, an invitation from BruCON organizers to next year’s conference: “We welcome all of you at BruCON!

The BruCON anti-harassment policy would not exist without the Ada Initiative’s work. We are a non-profit funded primarily by donations from people like you. If you believe more women should attend hacker conferences, please become a supporting donor today.

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