The greatest gift to community: what virtual events offer that in-person events do not.

I have been reflecting on safety at virtual events versus in-person events. Virtual events offer a level of safety that in-person events do not have, because I am not in a crowd of people. Nobody is going to put me in any physical danger or harass me unless it is online, and it is easier to shut down there than it is in person. Harassment does happen at events, unfortunately, both virtual and in person. I personally have heard of issues of all sorts, but due to respect for privacy, I will keep my silence here.

As a former PASS Board Member, what insights can I add here?

When I was a Board member for PASS, we looked a lot at the Anti Harassment Policy. Here’s a sample from the Business Analytics Conference in 2016, which I spearheaded, but PASS has plenty of updates over the years. AHP always had a priority slot at Board meetings where we knew everyone would be present (nobody shooting off to get a plane, for example).

The reality is that the Anti Harassment Policy is one of the greatest gifts that PASS have given to the community. It has inspired people all over the world to think about keeping people safe, and that was a huge community change.

And it cost PASS money. It costs money to talk to lawyers and get it right for all parties involved and to upkeep changes and get it right for everyone. It’s been there for years to keep people safe. I don’t know what accounting line it will come under, but no doubt it is kept private in order to respect privacy of anyone who may be involved. Despite that, it’s there for anyone to use.

What does that look like if/when PASS morphs into something else?

It is a very privileged viewpoint where people don’t consider the AHP when they talk about PASS. It makes people uncomfortable and DEI is about making people uncomfortable and pointing out the difficulties that make people’s lives harder. It is crucial to make people feel safe or they will leave. I’d like to see more conversation about how community can make people feel safe, and this will be the topic of my SQLBits video which I’ll share when it is released. So, what will happen to community efforts to keep people safe? I tried to set up a ‘Decency Charter’ as an open source option but nobody was interested.

I left the MVP Program because I did not feel safe, so I know from personal experience that people will just disappear if they do not feel safe. They may not speak publicly about their experiences but I have decided to share mine because I want to be the community leader who speaks out. I don’t need an Award to make people feel safe and change the world for a better, even in a small way, and people are still listening to me, for which I am intensely grateful. I’m talking from a point of pain, not privilege, and I consider Anti Harassment Policies, Code of Conducts and so on to be one of the most valuable community benefits ever.

An accusation is just that – an accusation. Under GDPR, you’d have the right to the information held about you and then we are talking lawyers and in-community fights as well as more pain. These things have to be done properly and fairly for everyone involved. Silence robs people of a coachable moment where people could learn and apologize. When I left the Microsoft MVP Program, I’ve never published names because I don’t think it’s fair to do so when people have not had the opportunity to grow, apologize and learn through a fair process. Due to the silence, the opportunity to do better and be better is taken away from people who go blithely on their way, unaware of the harm that they have caused. Feedback is a gift.

To keep people safe, I tried to pull together an open source ‘Decency’ charter and CoC, along with a ‘charter’ that would be welcoming along with a strategy to follow where things were not. That was driven by pain and I tried to get people to see how important it is; but the point of privilege is very blunt and it is wearying trying to educate people about it, so I gave up the fight because I could not move the needle towards the diversity, equality and inclusivity that I cherish. I didn’t get any help despite requests so it is just not a priority for the community and I would argue that it is crucial. I think we need more conversations on the ethics of ‘what harm will this do if we take this course of action rather than another?’ and that’s a harder question to answer.

One thought on “The greatest gift to community: what virtual events offer that in-person events do not.

  1. Codes of Conduct and Anti-Harassment policies are essential for events. I always check out how strong those policies are and sometimes ask questions of the organizers before I will attend. I haven’t done much in-person speaking since I left Microsoft, but as I ramp up to that again (if COVID allows) I will using something similar to Tatiana Mac’s exceptional speaker rider. By pushing for these safeguards and DEI as the people the event uses to draw their audience, we can influence these event organizers to become more inclusive, to avoid #Manels and #Wanels (all male and/or all white panels), and to create safer environments for all involved. Well, for all except the white patriarchy zealots.

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