Codes of Conduct Are for EVERYONE – Part I

Changing the Ratio – Changing the Culture
As a black woman working in technology, I am encouraged by all the challenging discussions about tech company and community culture, as well as the exciting efforts to increase inclusion and tackle problems with retention. I’ve supported such efforts (with my time and money) and enjoy watching groups evolve through the adoption of these values and practices. In the face of increasing reports of offensive speech and harassment (both online and in person), many groups have rushed to draft and adopt Codes of Conduct to broadcast to their community and the wider public that they are taking a tough stance on such behavior. Some of the most popular models and guidelines for codes of conduct have come from (predominantly white feminist) organizations such as Linuxchix,  The Ada Intiative, and Geek Feminism (with GF having probably the most comprehensive online resources on how to create not only a code of conduct but also enforcement policies).

While I appreciate all the work (paid and unpaid) that these groups have and continue to do around this issue, I find that in some circles the mere fact that the work has been so vehemently championed by predominantly white feminists leads people to the belief that CoCs are predominantly/ just FOR white feminists and, as such, those people have cast the CoC as a replacement or redundant anti-sexual harassment policy. I fully recognize and uphold the importance of preventing and addressing sexual harassment in our spaces but I don’t believe this is what the CoC is truly intended to be and is a misunderstanding and possible underestimation of what a CoC can be. Thus, I am writing this piece in hopes that we can symbolically “widen” the space for CoCs to not only be about the prevention and response to the sex/gender-focused Bad Thing but also about the promotion of a myriad of Good Things (e.g. increased access, participation, inclusion, retention). I truly believe that a good CoC should be in dialogue with the organization’s stated mission in an effort to enact practice and protocol that elevate the effort and it members/participants. As Sumana alludes to in her fantastic piece on Crooked Timber, codes of conduct are very much sort of where open source licenses were 10 to 15 years ago; everyone is writing their own and standards are emerging through practice. With the understanding that I, too, believe we are very much in early days — crucial days for debate in our various “town squares” — I hope that this series can help to inform the discussions.

Over the next few days, I’ll be publishing the next few chunks of my thoughts on this. They will (likely) be titled as follows (unless I make some on the fly edits…which I might) :

In the meantime, I HIGHLY recommend Sally Shepard’s ” Looking Beyond A Code of Conduct” here – (Bonus points for being a brilliant remix of the Joel test.)
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