While I agree with the intent, I strongly object to the particularly wording, for the following reasons:
The only thing it's concerned with is harassment, setting a very negative tone. It suggests that unless warned, monitored and policed, many conference attendees will intimidate, insult, grope and stalk each other. It presumes the worst and treats exceptions as the norm. This does not match the actual experience of attendees at events.
It then goes on to equate harassment with being offended on every politically sensitive topic in the book. Yet offense is in the eye of the beholder. Two people can have a conversation and each think the other person said offensive things. Someone who is offended is not automatically being harassed, and assuming all offense is deliberate ignores the intent of the person causing it.
Without further clarification, 'sexual images in public spaces' and 'sexualized material' are considered unacceptable and lumped under harassment as well, regardless of context. This is prudish and short-sighted, forcibly equating harmless jokes a 12 year old might make with outright criminal conduct and crass objectification for monetary gain.
It focuses on punishment rather than resolution, threatening expulsion, police involvement and suggesting that a personal escort may be required in order to feel safe at a social gathering of likeminded people. Accused offenders are expected to shut up and comply.
Proposed Code of Conduct for Conferences
Be excellent to each other, keep calm and enjoy the ride.
- We welcome and promote diversity in our speakers and attendees.
- We encourage attendees to approach each other with an open mind and without prejudice.
- We prefer face-to-face communication over social media backchannel talk and gossip.
- We expect everyone to promote their ideas tastefully, appealing to everyone, not just the in-crowd.
- But if the worst happens, find a staff member or organizer, and we will take your concerns very seriously.
[name of event] is an event where people come together to meet, share, listen and learn. We believe the best way to accomplish this is to value and promote diversity in our speakers and attendees. People of all shapes, colors, sizes, ages, genders, orientations, abilities and walks of life are welcome. We aim to select speakers on the merit of their ideas, not who they are. We do our best to make the conference accessible to everyone and welcome feedback and suggestions to achieve this.
At the same time, we realize diversity goes beyond ticking off all the United Colors of Benetton, and that equality of opportunity does not necessarily result in equality of outcome. Existing demographic trends in the community and industry will be reflected at the conference, and no-one should be considered less valuable simply because they are part of a perceived majority. Disabilities are not always visible, gender and sexual orientation are not binary, religious views can vary wildly under the same label, and nobody likes being lumped into categories.
It Takes Two To Tango
Human interaction is messy and communication is hard, and stepping outside one's comfort zone necessarily implies discomfort. Whether through a difference in perspective, past experiences, or because of cultural and language barriers, the possibility of misinterpretation is always there. Give fellow attendees the benefit of the doubt, and treat them like you would like to be treated. Understand that different cultures can have very different ideas on what is considered appropriate, and that not everyone is a fluent, native speaker.
If offense does occur, the best way to address this is between the parties involved. We encourage conference attendees to be receptive to personal criticism as well as speak their mind openly. However, we acknowledge that confrontation is not always the right answer, and are available to discuss incidents and help mediate disputes in private.
But Not Two-Thousand
Everyone feels the temptation to share, tweet and blog their experience, whether positive or negative. People on the outside will only receive a very narrow view of the event, colored by their own experiences, and just because someone attends a conference, doesn't mean they give up their right to privacy. Twitter is not an appropriate conflict resolution medium. Little is gained by inviting the masses to comment on a one-sided account, particularly when emotions are still running high. When in doubt, take a deep breath, put away that smartphone, and stick to face-to-face interaction.
That said, we encourage all attendees to share their experience after the conference is over and everyone's had a good night sleep in their own bed. Live-tweeting snippets or pictures out of context can be fun, but is ultimately more about the tweeter than the tweet.
High-School Is For Teenagers
Speakers and sponsors should keep in mind that they are acting in an official, highly visible capacity at the conference, and that their particular choices can send a strong signal to attendees. Talks and exhibits should be designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and in-jokes, memes and shallow appeal should be avoided. Booth babes and studs are not welcome, and costumes should display craftmanship first and foremost, not meat market potential.
We encourage first time attendees to set aside feelings of intimidation, and remind repeat attendees to make an effort to welcome newcomers. Empty chairs at tables are meant to be filled, and no-one should be eating alone at lunch.
That said, conferences often act as meeting places for friends who rarely see each other, and hence you can expect some minimum level of exhuberance and excitement to color the event, particularly at dinners or other social gatherings in the evening. Adults sometimes make off-color jokes, particularly between friends.
If Something Goes Wrong, We Will Fix It
If despite our best efforts the worst has happened, we will take matters seriously, including warnings and expulsion if deemed appropriate, after discussion with all parties involved. We will not hesitate to involve local law enforcement if outright harassement occurs.
If you feel harassed, remember that the vast majority of people at the conference are on your side, and that just because someone didn't speak out, doesn't mean they silently endorse what was said or done. It takes courage to stick out ones neck, and martyrdom is rarely pretty for anyone involved.