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Some notes on codes of conduct from a conference organizer's perspective

Some notes on codes of conduct from a conference organizer's perspective

  1. The customers of a Code of Conduct are the people whom it is protecting. For tech conferences, that means marginalized people.
  2. The Code of Conduct is a promise to its customers from the conference organizers that they will be in a safe space, and that they will be protected and given the benefit of the doubt in the event of something bad happening.
  3. Thus the wording of a code of conduct should be decided by its customers. The Geek Feminism wiki hosts an example code of conduct:
  4. The legal basis of a code of conduct is my right, as an event organizer, to kick anybody out of my private event for any reason, even if they have paid. This happens all the time, often with the most flimsy excuses:

If you, as a non-customer of the CoC, are not sure exactly under what circumstances you might be excluded, or how the CoC might be interpreted, the blunt answer is: it is at the discretion of the event organizers. A CoC cannot possibly specify everything, and that is not its purpose (see point 2 above). As a conference organizer, I am going to approach any incident by first listening to the person making the complaint, then giving the benefit of the doubt to the customer of the CoC, and using my judgement, with my goal being to protect customers of the CoC and ensure that the event continues to be perceived as a safe space by the CoC's customers.

There is a wider political issue here. The point of a CoC is to give power in the conference space back to marginalized people. If, as a non-customer, you feel concerned or anxious or uncomfortable that there is subjectivity and ambiguity in the CoC and how it is to be interpreted, then the CoC has achieved part of its purpose. This is exactly how its customers normally feel at tech conferences.

Any decision is going to be subjective and based on the judgement of the organizers. As Carlos Bueno says in his excellent article on the culture of tech companies in Silicon Valley, "The word 'privilege' literally means 'private law.' It’s the secrecy, deniable and immune to analysis, that makes the balance of power so lopsided in favor of insiders." I think this describes perfectly how tech conferences that do not have a CoC are run, and why marginalized poeple stay away from them.

Ashe Dryden has a great "Codes of Conduct 101 + FAQ":

Who am I? I am Jez Humble, co-PC chair, with Lane Halley, of FlowCon. FlowCon is a conference about lean product development, lean UX, continuous delivery, devops, the importance of creating flow, and how to grow organizations that thrive in an environment of continual change. Speakers include Mary Poppendieck, Marty Cagan, Don Reinertsen, and Dianne Marsh. FlowCon ran in San Francisco in 2013 and 2014. We had a program that was >40% women speakers both years - here's how we approached putting together our program! - and of course, we had a code of conduct.

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