Editor’s Note: We’re excited to be a part of Software Circus. We’re doing a pancake breakfast there to kick off this conference which is all about programmable infrastructure. It’s different in several respects. It will feature circus acts and fire breathers, along with geeky talks about app-centric infrastructure. But they are also making a great effort to be more diverse and harrassment-free. That’s what this post is about, along with some thoughts about how all tech conferences can help prevent harassment in a more universal manner.
Software Circus, a conference about programmable infrastructure, announced Friday that it has taken steps toward creating a safer and more diverse conference environment by offering free admission to women and the LGBTQ community alongside a Code of Conduct. Software Circus also plans to hire security at the event who are trained to handle harassment. Hiring security officials that are familiar with harassment — including the many ways that those guilty of harassing others may attempt to fabricate a situation that did not occur in order to avoid punishment — will be helpful in creating a safer conference environment.
Security officials that know what to look for in regards to harassment issues can make a better-informed assessment of a situation, with the ability to recognize and understand the experiences of those that often experience harassment over those of their harassers. Harassment can take many forms. It can be blatant, with direct confrontation between parties. It can also occur in microaggressions, which may include comments on social media, discussion topics, or insulting and dismissive treatment of others in shared conference spaces.
Improving Conferences for All
Conference security is the first line of defense against harassment. Software Circus hiring a security team that will uphold their Code of Conduct while being briefed on the many nuances of harassment will be beneficial in ensuring that those attending have a safe experience. Conference organizers can follow this example by hiring security that are members of marginalized communities themselves, rather than those from privileged backgrounds that may not truly grasp how microaggressions and harassment can affect conference attendees.
Security must respond quickly, treating all reports with urgency while taking care to uphold the privacy of those reporting an issue. Often, many will not report harassment experienced at conferences due to fear of violence or continued harassment outside of conference spaces, such as on social media. When an incident is reported, it must be escalated to the conference organizers promptly, with no leniency given to those found to be engaging in harassment of attendees.
If a person removed from the event is found to be harassing an attendee on social media upon rejection from the conference, proper steps must be taken to blacklist the individual from returning in future years. Logs must be kept by the conference to report to local authorities if a situation escalates to the point where law enforcement will become involved. This allows the person experiencing harassment to provide further evidence of their situation, and shows that the conference takes these incidents seriously.
Another crucial step toward improving conference safety is a well-drafted Code of Conduct. Both Software Circus and Ruby have created strong CoCs with clear outlines of what details harassment. Software Circus has gone above and beyond the traditional Code of Conduct, outlining that it will consider harassment to include stalking, intimidation, harassing photography, and sustained interruption of events, as well as many others.
Increasing Diversity at Conferences
Increasing diversity is another way to make conferences safer for those attending. Software Circus announcing that it will be allowing women and the LGBTQ community to attend the convention for free is a step forward in ensuring that tech spaces are not dominated by white cisgender men.
It’s worth noting that having accessible conference prices, or eliminating fees altogether for those who identify as women, or are non-binary or transgender, will go a long way toward ensuring a conference is more diverse. Price points for attendance often put even local conferences out of reach for many transgender and non-binary people, whom on average are four times more likely to earn less than $10,000 a year than cisgender individuals. Offering reduced or waived entrance fees will ensure that your conference is attended by a wider variety of people.
Another crucial point to making conferences safer, more diverse spaces is to redefine how panels are chosen. CSSconf EU recently offered a detailed explanation of how it selects panels, which allows for less repeat presenters, more diversity, reduction of bias, exclusion based on skill level, and overall inclusivity. Conferences can foster an open, inclusive environment by looking at their current panel selection process and applying changes if need be to ensure that panelists represent the entire industry. Taking care to select relevant panels/talks from marginalized community members will also ensure that attendees feel safe discussing these panels, the issues they raise, and their particular needs at a conference.
Overall, these steps are just some of those that will ensure tech industry conferences are more diverse, harassment-free spaces that are welcoming to all that wish to attend them.