Did you know we have a site that lists all upcoming conferences related to front-end web design and development? We do! If you’re looking to go to one, check it out. If you’re running one, feel free to submit yours.
Now that we’re running this, I’ve got loads of Pull Requests for conferences all around the world. I didn’t realize that many (most?) conferences use the template at confcodeofconduct.com. In fact, many of them just link to it and call it a day.
That’s why I’m very happy to see there is a new, bold warning about doing just that.
This code of conduct page is a template and should not be considered as enforceable. If an event has linked to this page, please ask them to publish their own code of conduct including details on how to report issues and where to find support.
It’s great that this site exists to give people some starter language for thinking about the idea of a code of conduct, but I can attest to the fact that many conferences used it as a way to appear to have a code of conduct before this warning while making zero effort to craft their own.
The primary concern about linking directly to someone else’s code of conduct or copy and pasting it to a new page verbatim is that there is nothing about what to do in case of problems. So, should a conduct incident occur, there is no documented information for what people should do in that event. Without actionable follow-through, a code of conduct is close to meaningless. It’s soul-less placating.
This is just one example:
It’s not to single someone out. It’s just one example of at least a dozen.
I heard from quite a few people about this, and I agree that it’s potentially a serious issue. I’ve tried to be clear about it: I won’t merge a Pull Request if the conference is missing a code of conduct or it simply links to confcodeofconduct.com (or uses a direct copy of it with no actionable details).
I know the repo is looking for help translating the new warning into different languages. If you can help with that, I’m sure they’d love a PR to the appropriate index HTML file.
I realize this is an unpopular position, but I don’t understand the value of codes of conduct. I would never occur to me to refer to one when attending a technology event, any more than it occurs to me to do so when attending a grocery store or beach or a friends house, or really anywhere. If A person were inclined to harass others, I don’t think the presence of these documents would dissuade them.
I have attended and organized technology gatherings in the past and will do so in the future. I’d be happy to be corrected on these points.
I think a good approach here is to listen. Just because you don’t see the immediate value, doesn’t mean that nobody else does. This sticks with me: we don’t get to decide how other people feel. And if other people say it makes them feel safer and cared for and like they have a place to turn if things go bad, I’m going to assume they aren’t lying, and more, I’ll do what I can to make sure that happens.
I also feel pretty comfortable… pretty much anywhere. A couple of white dudes in tech like us aren’t exactly side-eyed walking in a conference hall. But just because I’m comfortable doesn’t mean that exact feeling extends to every person there.
I’m not on some crusade all by myself to force code of conducts onto all event pages on the internet. In fact, I didn’t even think about it while building this site (go me). It was brought to me by people who feel strongly about it. Not one, many. I’m trying to listen to them, and I agree with them: conferences should publicly state what is and isn’t acceptable at their event, what they plan to do in case of violations, and who to contact when a violation occurs.
The value is to have clearly stated that certain behaviors are not acceptable, and then to give a clear path of action when violations occur. If you have lived a life where this need has never arisen, then luck has so far been on your side. But for those affected by harassment and CoC violations at gatherings, these clear statements are extraordinarily helpful to attendees, volunteers and staff to eliminate some of the confusion and stress of handling an incident.
If you are organizing events, please put yourself in the shoes of your potential attendees and think about who you may be excluding by not having a code like this. I personally would consider an event less welcoming (and not worth my time/money) if it did not consider these possibilities or clarify procedures, or if organizers stated that they didn’t see the value in a code of conduct.
I appreciate the responses! A lot of that makes good sense to me.
I guess the main thing I don’t get, is why are conferences in particular in need of codes of conduct, as opposed to other parts of life? Or am I misinterpreting that and actually many people feel like most parts of life would benefit from codes of conduct?
Is it mainly for conferences where attendees are booked in close proximity in overnight lodging?
It’s quite ridiculous that someone will take out the time to organize an event, and take less time to create a code of conduct. It’s like a city without laws – there’s no offense. The question is: What then do you hold people accountable for if and when they do something you didn’t specify? And in case of something going wrong, where do we go to. 911? No one should just assume everything will go smooth. Even if it does 99% of the time, we need to prepare for the worst.
One difference is that you got guys like me telling you you wanna up your game? you wanna leg up professionally? you wanna find out what’s going on in your industry? go to a conference.. That’s not theoretical. I tell people that.
So you do it, you take my advice. You show up at a conference and there are some guys chatting about GraphQL. Nice! Fellow nerds. You’re just listening in. Then another guy starts telling a joke that starts out a [racial slur] and [religious slur] and [gender slur] walk into a bar. Uh oh. I am one-or-many of those things. I don’t feel welcome here, at best.
Now I wanna know – are the organizers just like these guys? If I go to them, am I going to be laughed at? Am I going to be told to button up buttercup? Maybe. I sure would feel better if I knew the organizer’s public stance on it and there was clear actionable instructions on what I could and should do. (That ain’t a made up story either.)
It’s not that there isn’t problems on beaches too. Maybe we do need to fix beaches, I dunno. But to say, well, my friends living room doesn’t need a code of conduct, that’s taking it too far, so this miniture-city of a conference doesn’t need one either isn’t fair.
Here’s another true story. Another white male posted on this very comment thread and said he doesn’t see the value in code of conducts, and in fact, would worry about going to a conference that had one. Then, he got a creepy email from someone, presumably from someone who saw his name on the thread, looked him up, and contacted him. I don’t know what was in that creepy email, but it didn’t sound good. That absolutely sucks for this dude, to have people making him feel uncomfortable (the word abuse was used) based on activity on this site. I don’t condone that in any way. In some small condolence, this site has a code of conduct that spells out that that behavior is unacceptable and that he’s got the right to have the comment removed or edited (it’s gone). Plus it has actionable contact details there, instead of nothing (which was kinda the point of this whole article.)
Thanks for understanding this, Chris. It’s true, the biggest value from Codes of Conduct comes from the effort an organization makes in figuring out what they believe and what they want to do about a problem. Sometimes a big, even hard-to-have conversation has to be had in order to come up with a CoC. That’s a great thing, and actually the whole point. It’s much better for a group of conference organizers to have a conversation before the conference about what they are going to do if there is a problem, like if a man is being creepy and harassing other attendees — instead of trying to figure it out in the middle of running a conference.
Many of these conferences are held in hotels. The hotel itself has a plan about what to do if there’s a fire in the building. There are laws, in fact, about the hotel and fire safety. The fire marshal visits periodically to make sure those laws are being obeyed. What is considered safe is figured out ahead of time. When and how to evacuate the building is figured out ahead of time. What equipment is needed (detectors, sprinklers, standpipes) is figured out ahead of time. It’s not figured out during a fire. It’s not dependent on who’s there, or why a fire was started. It’s decided long before, when there is no problem in sight, so a problem does happen, people have a clue about what to do in the moment.
(More than once, I’ve had the fire marshal show up at a talk I’m presenting, and turn people away, so that we didn’t have too many people in the room. In the moment, I’m like “who cares! They will fit! Let them all in! My talk is awesome!” But, luckily for the people in the room, someone else gets to decide — not me, not in the moment. Ahead of time. There’s a plan. The plan is followed.)
Any time we bring a group of people together, we are responsible for their well-being. We must allow them water, bathrooms, food, easy access to leave, make sure there’s not overcrowding, make sure nothing will fall on people (a big safety concern for any space with theater equipment, like lighting instruments), make sure there’s not a riot, no panic, no stampede… These things happen because of cultural/societal expectations, because of building codes, because our conferences venues come with professional staff that take care of such things in the background. We may take all this for granted, but none of these things happen accidentally. In fact, there are plenty of examples throughout history and across the globe where things have gone terribly wrong because such laws, expectations, or habits were not in place.
The tech industry has not historically valued the presence of women or people of color / under-represented PoC. In fact, historically, the tech industry has a track record of using meanness, bullying, hate speech, threats of violence, physical and sexual assault to control who belongs in our industry, and who doesn’t. Certain kinds of people have been driven away for decades, so that certain other kinds of people could own the space, could feel like they-and-only-they belonged. This is documented fact, and many of us have experienced such hate and harassment throughout our careers. We are only still here out of stubbornness and an unwillingness to be driven away.
The movement to create Codes of Conduct is an effort to change this culture. It’s an effort say “no more. We will not tolerate women being driven out of tech. We will not tolerate a kind of whites-only culture that makes everyone else feel deeply uncomfortable or worse. We will not allow a tiny minority of dude bros to bully everyone else into feeling like they don’t belong. We will do something about this culture, anytime it comes up. We, the organizers of this event, have talked about this. We loosely agree with each other that we want to change this culture. We’ve talked about what we are going to do if there’s a problem. And we are ready to at least try to proactively make things better.”
Anyone who hasn’t done the work — who’s just phoning it in to make it look like they care — well, that’s not actually changing the culture. CoC’s aren’t magic. A document is not going to suddenly make hundreds of years of bigotry vanish. But the conversations that happen while writing a CoC — that’s a real start. We are making a change. And while many of the people who benefit from the old culture do not want things to change, many of us do. And are grateful for all these tiny steps towards a better world.
After thinking about this for a couple of days and reading the discussion, I arrived at an additional reason for CoC that I don’t believe has been mentioned here explicitly: A formal CoC would seem to put conference organizers in better legal standing if they eject an offender without refunding them (it even if they do refund for that matter).