Open Source Decency Charter Proposal for Dealing with Harassment at Technical Events

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If you’re reading this, you are probably a decent person. You shouldn’t read this thinking that you will be putting yourself in danger if you attend a tech event. I can tell you that I normally feel pretty safe at these events and you can read my story here and I’ve talked about it publicly since I want to do something good with it. Note that I don’t represent any other organization or body or person with this blog. It’s another heartdump.

Most people are pretty decent but what do you do about the ones that are not? How do victims know what to do? How do you know how to help one of your friends?

The vast majority of people want to help and are decent, and that’s why I’d like to propose the creation of an open source Decency Charter to help at technical community events which need support for handling harassment at events.

A Decency Charter would outline reasonable and decent expectations for participants within the a technical community event, both online and in-person, as well as steps to reporting unacceptable behavior and concerns. It’s fairly simple at heart: be decent to one another.

I think that it would be good to have to have something very clear in place that people can use as a template, so everyone can have a voice and feel safe. That’s why I think an open source Decency Charter is a good suggestion and I’d be interested in your thoughts.

This blog post is an attempt to bring a few strands together; namely diversity, harassment in the technical community, and a proposal for a way forward.

It’s a shame that we have to encode decency into technical events.  More and more workplaces are being embroiled in sexual harassment cases. According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 2017, over 50% of workplaces have had an issue with sexual harassment. I think it would be good if people could adopt a Decency Charter, since it sounds more positive than a Code of Conduct. The inspiration came from Reid Hoffman, who talked about a Decency Pledge in his article The Human Rights of Women Entrepreneurs where he talks about sexual harassment of women in the industry. I’m grateful to Reid Hoffman for his article because it does help to have male voices in these discussions. Simply put, his voice will carry further than mine, and with way more credibility.

Followers of my blog will know that I’m trying to get support for a Diversity Charter to support diversity at events. As an additional add-on, I’d like to propose a Decency Charter as well, which gives people a template that they can use and amend to monitor their event, as they see fit. I’d love your ideas and please do email me at jen.stirrup@datarelish.com with your thoughts, or leave a comment on this blog.

I am going to start to list a few things here from the viewpoint of someone whose head is bloodied, but unbowed and I want to use my voice. Everyone’s experience is different but I thought that this might help in shaping a Decency Charter that sits alongside a Diversity Charter. So, what do I actually want?

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As a starter for ten:

I want to feel safe and comfortable – Make it easy. I don’t have to have to think about it too hard if something happens to me or one of my friends – I need something that is so easy that I don’t have to look far to know what to do. I need to know what to do when something happens. I want to have a ‘home’ to go to, if something happens – that can be a location, or a person to call. I want to talk to someone. I want a number to call that is very visible on my event pass or pack so I can find it easily. I don’t want to google around for a form to fill in because that introduces a delay when it goes to an organizer, plus I am worried about putting my concerns about an individual or an event down in writing in case it gets in the wrong hands. This won’t secure my safety after the event, and that worries me, too. If I make a complaint, I can’t be sure that it would be successfully resolved and all relevant data removed, or handled confidentially. Google forms are so easily digested and forwarded by email and, like feathers, it could spread. I just want to talk to someone, in my own time. So, before, during and after the event, I’d ideally like each event to have a named panel of people who will listen to my concerns and they can act upon them in a clearly documented way.

I want others to feel safe and comfortable – I expect people to be able to answer accusations made about them. I don’t want people to think that the Microsoft Data Platform community, for example, is some den where there is a lot of harassment. There isn’t, but I’d like to see a Decency Charter in place in case there is.

I want to have a voice – I don’t want my voice taken away from me. I don’t want other people to speak for me. It’s easy for people to propose things without asking victims what they want, it’s very easy to dictate an approach from a point of privilege.

I want other people to have a voice – because everyone should be allowed to speak for themselves.

I expect confidentiality. I don’t expect people to repeat private details or rumours. At best, it immediately breeds distrust and you will never earn it back. At worst, you can deeply impact someone’s life by handling issues insensitively, and this cuts both ways. An accusation can’t be a condemnation, and there also has to be a balance with protecting people at the same time. Gossip doesn’t make me trust your processes in resolving things, and it has to be well thought out from all angles.  People can see how people behave with one another, and it’s a halo effect.

I expect you not to judge.

I expect to be able to get help right now, and have event organizers and volunteers who can support me if I need it. This is simply making sure that event volunteers are trained in knowing who to alert when something happens and responding thoughtfully and without judging, and, ultimately, centred on sensitivity.

I expect to be able to get help after the event, and have event organizers and volunteers who can support me if I need it.  I think that having an easily-available contact in place, well after the event, would be a good step. Event organizers usually have to clear things up well after an event, so this isn’t an onerous issue at all.

So how could this shape up?

I’d like to propose that, along with the Diversity Charter, we roll out an accompanying Decency Charter, similar to OpenCon Community Values or  the PASS Anti-Harassment policy. The PASS one is a good model but it only affects PASS events, and I’d like it to be an ‘open source’ way forward for community models. I think that, if we offered a ‘package’ of a Diversity Charter plus accompanying Decency Pledge, then the community have a template of ‘add-ons’ that they can choose to flex and use for their own events. They are absolutely welcome to change and adapt as they feel fit. I think it would be great to get a version 1.1. out there for the community to review and we can see what changes I get back.

What problem does this solve?

People don’t know where to start so we can give them a hand up.

As part of the speaker selection process, speakers can submit their past speaking experience as part of the speaker selection process. Organisers can choose to follow up with those past events to see if there are any issues with speakers; in any case, they should be doing their due diligence on speaker selection anyway, so it should not cost much effort  just to ask if there were any other issues that they should know about. It’s hard to deal with attendees because they are harder to police, and they can provide anonymous details at the point of registration. However, sending a signal with a robust Decency Pledge would send a message before people turn up to the event, and they should agree to adhere to it as part of the event registration process.

It’s so much easier to talk facts to someone, which is why I think organizers can offer contact details in case anyone wants to get in touch with them after the event.

Here are some resources to follow up:

PASS Summit Anti Harassment Policy

Enforcing a Code of Conduct

Responding to Reports of Harassment at Tech Events

I also want to add these resources in case this blog triggers anyone:

Male Rape and Sexual Abuse – because men can be victims, too.

Supporting a Survivor. 

I wanted to put this poem here, which is Invictus by William E. Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

You’ve got this.

I’d love to know what you think. Please contact me at jen.stirrup@datarelish.com and I’ll be pleased to know your thoughts.

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One thought on “Open Source Decency Charter Proposal for Dealing with Harassment at Technical Events

  1. I love the focus on event organizers developing a clear process for what they will do in the event of a problem (i.e. handling the situation sensitively but robustly). It’s easy to throw a code of conduct out without preparing for what should be done in the event of a problem, which doesn’t help anyone.

    A clear process is reassuring to people who might otherwise keep quiet too: they will know up-front what to do & what they can expect and can therefore have more confidence that the situation won’t snowball away from them.

    I’d add that organizers should also consider what to do if a person being implicated is an organizer or big-name speaker.

    Thank you for all you do on this topic. It’s so very important.

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