Selena Deckelmann's blog

Getting ready for OSCON, code of conduct and cultural change

posted on Jul 23, 2011
tags: code of conduct cultural change oscon
categories: community conference

UPDATE: See bottom of post.

I totally should be working on my talks right now, but instead I've been talking with people about the lack of a code of conduct for OSCON.

I've written before about cultural resistance, and how I think it fits in with changes that must happen in technical communities when we invite more women in.

One of those changes is making it clear that women (and other minorities) are not just tolerated in public spaces, but that they are explicitly wanted there.

I think OSCON has made great strides in that direction by changing their marketing materials to include the faces of women. Sarah Novotny, co-chair of OSCON, travelled extensively to invite women face-to-face to submit talks. There are many women speaking at OSCON this year.

OSCON put the time and energy into creating a sense that women were already attending (which they are), and that they wanted more.

So, why all the fuss about having a code of conduct? Well, this community is changing.

What people think of as "summer camp for geeks" is this year a gathering that by definition includes people who haven't previously been part of the OSCON community. When a community (which OSCON definitely is) sets out to change the gender percentages, it needs to be clear that the women are being invited to join and shape the culture, not just show up to be tourists of the existing culture.

The leadership of the conference needs to establish with existing attendees that the cultural change is wanted. The fact is, OSCON is a for-profit enterprise, with a business driving the event. Grassroots activism is helpful in encouraging change, but ultimately, the owners of the brand need to make a statement in addition to the marketing.

I applaud Jono Bacon for his creation of an anti-harassment policy for the Community Leadership Summit. I also am heartened at O'Reilly's recent tweet that they are following this conversation.

I don't think that codes of conduct are the perfect solution. But how else do we communicate to everyone participating that the change is happening, and that they need to accommodate new members who are very different from them during a period of cultural adjustment? That's not a rhetorical question -- I am genuinely interested in answers to this question.

I've updated my profile to state that I am pro-code-of-conduct, and included a link to anti-harassment resources, which I think should be part of an overall code of conduct. Donna put up a wikipage with easy to cut-n-paste additions for OSCON speaker profiles. If you agree that a code of conduct is a positive direction, please join us!

UPDATE: Tim O'Reilly has blogged about his expectations in a post titled "Sexual Harassment at Technical Conferences: A Big No-No" regarding a code of conduct for conferences under the O'Reilly umbrella going forward.


Have some feedback? Corrections? Ideas for other posts? Contact me @selenamarie.