My experience with Code of Conduct
By Vicky Twomey-Lee in Dublin April 8, 2021, 6 p.m.
This is written from my experience as a volunteer community tech events organiser for over a 15 years, I don't claim to be an expert, and if you have anything helpful to add, please add it to the comments below. Thanks in advance.
Around 2009/10, as far as I know, not many Irish hosted tech events and conferences have a Code of Conduct. I was starting to look into it as it was a hot topic as I follow a lot of tech news on industry events and conferences, and very US-focussed. At the time, I was an organiser of a big tech community group and was organising its inaugural conference, I had questions:
- Do we need a Code of Conduct?
- What is it?
- Why can't I get more women going to tech events and conferences? (Nowadays, it would be more about the diverse community; those earlier times, it was due to isolation of seeing only myself and a few others at these events and it was something I wanted to change to see more people like myself.)
The best example I first encountered was Alterconf (also one of the best inclusive tech conferences I've attended in person), see alterconf.com/code-of-conduct, and whenever I need to check on something, this is always my own initial go to before I look up other sites.
I’ve heard doubts on why should an organisation like a community group need a Code of Conduct?
- Ah sure, nothing has happened, or
- No-one reported anything untoward or
- Maybe you don’t trust the community
The above was said to me when I was proposing the Code of Conduct to a community group. 😓
It's the first hurdle, you will encounter resistance, and lots of questions. And it's ok not to have all the answers, I had to talk to folks after those meetings and see how I can address those answers. It's a topic that people may not be comfortable with.
It has been taken as an unspoken rule that we are all adults and the phrase from Wil Wheaton of “Don’t be a d❋ck!” just doesn't cut it. I knew we could do better, and talking to people (who are like me) about one of the deciding factors to go to a tech event or conference is knowing that there is a Code of Conduct. That made me think.
A Code of Conduct is a good first step in encouraging people who don't normally go to these tech events, I've been wracking my head wondering why people don't go, normally it's "I'm not a coder!" or "I'm not techie enough!" - which is untrue - I really wanted people from different industries talk about the tech they use in areas such as special effects, animation, even artistic projects. I've seen amazing talks from international conferences, why not in Ireland also?
Now we have many tech events and conferences include the Code of Conduct, which is a great start. You have done your research on what Code of Conduct is, see ashedryden.com/blog/codes-of-conduct-101-faq... you will also need to understand where all this came from.
Do read up on past incidents of folks being harassed at these tech events. Warning that it's not for pleasant reading, but it is important as an attendee, organiser, or someone who's part of a community to know about this dark side of history. geekfeminism.wikia.org/wiki/Community_anti-harassment is a good place to start, it's a wiki linked to examples of these incidents, examples of a code of conduct, evaluation as well as how to handle incidents.
Code of Conduct is not law
I look at it as a guide on what to do if an incident occurs. Large events like conferences, you will need to go over what to do with staff helping at the event. This is to mitigate the stress on all parties when something occurs, e.g. the right person to contact is found promptly, and is handled properly.
🔥 And I have seen it, and you can read about it in Geek Feminism... volunteer staff are running around finding the organiser(s) and not knowing what to do, and everyone is stressed out, especially the person who reported the incident.
Keep learning, having a Code of Conduct is not enough, you need to learn more on how to be a good ally as an organiser. Via Geek Feminism, I came across Valerie Aurora who provided free material for Ally Skills Workshops, and now runs Frame Shift Consulting and continues to provide these materials (includes train the trainer and her talks "about technology and how to use it in a socially responsible way.")
I ran 2 of these Allyship workshops as Coding Grace events and even had the privilege of attending one at CarpentryCon ran by Aurora herself. Each of these workshops were completely different as it depends on the people who attend and we all have different experiences. Scenarios taken from real life can be uncomfortable, healthy discussions about it is encouraged, and at times, it is also okay to step out of the workshop if it's too overwhelming. Safe and inclusive environment is paramount for sessions like this. With that in mind, this should also be the case for tech events and conferences.
Coding Grace's Code of Conduct is based on the one from Geek Feminism, and as well as it's important to have the contact person, knowing how to evaluation and handle incidents is just as important.
With many communities using online forums more and more like Slack, it's important to make sure that harassment incidents are also handled properly by moderators. A good example that has evolved over the years is the IrishTechCommunity's Code of Conduct for their Slack group.
And since the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, the events have more or less moved online for many communities, and moderation here is still relatively new. But ti.to has a good post on adapting it to virtual events.
Some other communities online Code of Conduct resources:
This post hasn't even scratched the surface on the topic of Code of Conduct, but I do encourage you to read up on what it is, how to evaluate and handle an incident.
This is not all, folks!
Things to remember and bear in mind:
- This applies not only to guests attending events, it's also for organisers and invited guest speakers
- No reports of incidents, doesn't mean nothing happened. I have spoken to folks after the event and they felt something which happened made them uncomfortable and didn't feel it was big enough to report to the organisers.
- The Code of Conduct is not law - I can't emphasise this enough.