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On conferences and anti-harassment [Updated!]

April 26, 2016


UPDATE: PASS, the organization in question, has posted an excellent reply to the  concerns I wrote about here. Well done, PASS; I like an org who will answer concerns promptly, and publicly.

I’m gonna say the major problem with any halfway decent anti harassment policy (AHP) is how it gets interpreted. This is currently an issue because the major professional organization I’m in has expanded their AHP: “…now it also covers event attendees at all times and places during the duration of the conference/event, including offsite vendor activities.” Well, hellfire.

I’m personally in very much in favor of making conferences safer, making options more clear for people who are victims of harassment.  Sean and I were talking about this topic TODAY at lunch (we’re working on a grassroots program to help the issue).

But you can’t tell me that this scenario is impossible:

  1. Someone overhears me say “shit”.
  2. Folks are offended at the word, complaint ensues.
  3. I’m banned forever.

You can’t tell me that this scenario is impossible, because this actually has happened to me.

What’s worse: I was an attendee at conferences, then a speaker. Now I’m both, plus a sponsor. I pay money (sometimes, quite a lot of money) to set up my booth and tell people about the product I’m selling. I have even more of a vested interest in being allowed to come to conferences, give them my money, and hang out and talk to people.

So yeah. VERY mixed feelings about the updated AHP, especially the expansion.



P.S. I didn’t feel quite right about posting this on my branded blog. I’m not sure if I’m being overly sensitive. But then, I do have reason to be paranoid, no?


Update: Lots of discussion on Twitter about this, which is good. I apparently haven’t stressed a few things enough, so to recap:

  1. Harassment is a very serious problem.
  2. I am firmly in favor of an anti-harassment policy.
  3. I do not object to the newly expanded PASS anti-harassment policy.
  4. But I’m concerned that there’s a good potential for it to be misused.
  5. The policy should still exist.

I also do not think that details of incident reports should be made public. I know I for one would find it a lot harder to report the details of, say, a physical attack if I knew that the details of WHERE they touched me, and WHEN and for HOW LONG, and WHAT I SAID, etc etc were all going to be posted and scrutinized. In fact, this suggestion (hinted at in another conversation) is a terrible idea, and couldn’t be put in place for that reason, and for legal issues.

Conference organizers are in a tough position. I want them to do what’s right. I support them putting AHPs in place. I hope that PASS in particular finds a way to address the concerns of average, everyday, non-creeper citizens who like to use naughty language among friends.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2016 3:01 am

    You’re not paranoid. I mean just assume hypothetically you get reported because you offend someone (insert youtube video with Stephen Frye about being offended) and you’re the only one to get reported, Assume also, the new policy scares all the drunk ass grabbers from last year to not grab any asses this year. They might ban you two just to make an example out of you to seem tough on harassment. You’d be the equivalent of the non-violent drug offender whose PASS memberships were ruined because someone saw you smoking a joint an called the cops.

    You are not the only one to raise concerns, and I could come up with a million scenarios whereby your banned from PASS.

    Honestly, unless there are some official guidelines published along the lines of “were not going to ban you for one bad word” and private invitation only events that clearly state certain non-PASS approved behavior will happen will be treated as “consensual adults behind closed doors doing adult things” you have reason to be concerned.

  2. Brent Ozar permalink
    April 27, 2016 12:01 pm

    Each individual deserves to feel safe, and deserves to be able to speak their minds.

    But in groups, it’s hard to have both – if someone speaks their mind, someone else may not feel safe.

    I don’t envy anybody who has to judge which side is in the right in situations like this, but if they’re going to try it, I’d like to see them do it with the help of diversity/inclusivity experts who’ve had these discussions before, and led to a positive, constructive outcome. It’s just like any task – if you wanna do it, go talk to someone else who’s done it before, and get their help.

    • April 28, 2016 7:42 pm

      I personally will always err on the right to freedom of speech and expression. Unless a person is actively causing a disruption the simple solution is always “stop speaking to them”.

      if a person starts following a conference attendee or speaker around berating them.. that’s very different and should be dealt with.

      • April 28, 2016 7:49 pm

        Yes, and recent updates indicate that the Summit organizers likely feel the same.

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