Community Update  ·  November 07, 2016

Strong Codes of Conduct

Tyler Menezes, Executive Director and Board Member

I believe strongly in the technology industrys ability to make the world a better place. As anyone whos seen HBOs Silicon Valley knows, however, that sentiment doesnt often translate into practice.

Right now, one of our biggest barriers is a lack of diversity in background. Youve likely heard plenty about how white and male the top technology companies are. Its bad for equality, but its also preventing us from seeing important problems and unusual solutions. StudentRND is working to improve it.

Many people dont get involved in technology because theyre made to feel unwelcome by people already in technology. Many organizations try to address this with a Code of Conduct.

Our Code of Conduct has stuck with us as weve grown to 40 cities with tens of thousands of participants. Today, were making changes which we believe will make our community more welcoming.

By sharing our changes, and the rationale behind them, were hoping other groups and projects might be able to improve their communities, too.

Be Positive. Start With Why. Ask For Help.

Many Codes of Conduct simply explain what people arent allowed to do. This makes them rules. No one wants to read the rules. (Seriously, weve had 20 visits to our rules page in the last month.)

Weve always taken a slightly positive approach, which has received broad compliments from attendees, and our latest policy takes this further by leading with our vision for the community, and how attendees can help:

StudentRND strives to make students feel welcome so they can meet new friends, have fun, and build cool things. To create this atmosphere, we need the help of the whole community.

At StudentRND events, please be friendly and welcoming.

Be humble, even when youre successful.

Respect, encourage, and support others.

Because the Code of Conduct is one of the first signs our community members see when attending an event, leading with a vision not only increases the reading rate, it also helps create the StudentRND culture.

Having people on-board and excited about the Code of Conduct also helps with enforcement. In talking about the updates, our community has already turned the core principle into a meme, which gets brought up every time someone says something vaguely mean:

Image of slack search for "friendly and supportive." There are several posts from different people.

No Harassment Anywhere

Many behaviors are dangerous, illegal, or make others feel unwelcome, and while we dont encourage them, we respect the right to disagree. Diversity of opinion is important, so most of our code of conduct applies only when attending CodeDay. This is true of most Codes of Conduct.

Unusually, one provision from our Code of Conduct, however, applies even when participants arent acting as our community members:

StudentRND members may never harass others.

Harassment includes words or behavior which are intended to disparage, demean, mock, or intimidate a person or group. People who participate in harassment are not welcome at StudentRND events, even when this behavior takes place outside the event.

Attendees who participate in harassment make their targets, actual and potential, unwelcome at our events, even when it doesnt happen here. By silently ignoring this behavior, organizers are making a choice about which group theyd like to attend their events.

We’ve made our choice explicit.

We dont plan to proactively police this policy. A number of times, someone whos been the past target of harassment by an attendee has brought it to our attention, but without a clear policy, weve done nothing. With this change, were empowering our staff to do the right thing.

Were Not a Dating Event

Most Codes of Conduct contain language which prohibits unwelcome sexual advances. This has been one of our most common problems at CodeDay, but dealing with it has been a big problem:

  • When considering whether an advance was unwelcome, do we consider only the opinion of the recipient, or what the advancer could have been reasonably expected to believe?
  • If we consider the beliefs of the advancer, how do we get the facts of the situation? Body language is a major cue which cant easily be repeated.
  • If our staff sees it happening, do we intervene?
  • How do we reduce the pressures against reporting an unwanted advance? Its common for attendees to feel the person making the advance didnt realize it was unwanted, even if it seems clear to us.

Theres actually a simple solution to this problem: stop being a matchmaking service. Industry events and technical communities are not the place for getting dates.

Our latest Code of Conduct prohibits anyone from hitting on others at StudentRND events. If you like someone, and they like you, I have no doubt youll keep in touch after our event.

Two of our earliest attendees have been engaged for the last year. This policy wouldnt have stopped that. It will, however, empower us to stop most of the behavior making us all uncomfortable.

Encourage Third-Party Reporting

This is untested so far, but I hope that it works.

A big problem we had with our last Code of Conduct was community members experiencing a clear violation, brushing it off, and going on with the event, only to never show up again and mention the incident in passing months later.

Reporting another attendee is an obvious way to make that attendee dislike you. If that attendee is being an awful human, one might be tempted to ignore it, but theres also a real fear that it will alienate other attendees as well. And really, thats a totally valid fear.

Thats why our latest Code of Conduct encourages third-parties to report behavior by offering free admission to future events for all good-faith reports, and making it easy to do so quickly and anonymously: providing both an email, and a phone number.

(Quick note: Because we work with high school students, we arent as draconian about punishing violations as an industry event or group might be. Depending on the nature of the violation, we might discuss why the behavior isnt ok, or ban the offender for only a season or a year. Weve had success with people changing their behavior this way, although we keep a close eye on past offenders. This isnt a great strategy for adults, who are far less likely to change behaviors.)

If you liked this post, an easy way to support our work is to follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter. We often post volunteer and mentor opportunities.

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