29 August 2013
I am not only a member of the computer software industry, I’m also a member of something often referred to as “fandom” – which means I deeply enjoy science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and all sorts of things related to SF. Yes, I’m a Trekkie, and a Star Wars geek, and a master of Lord of the Rings trivia :)
Fandom has its own conventions, and my family and I enjoy going to them. Over the past couple years there’s been a rise in understanding that fandom conventions often attract some people who feel like they should be able to harass other people. Often sexual harassment.
As a result there’s been a wide ranging and intense discussion about the topic on “the Internets”. It is hard for me to imagine how anyone can argue for harassing behaviors, but people do.
Recently John Scalzi, the author of some of my favorite books, and a wonderful ambassador for SF to the world, posted Scalzi’s convention harassment policy by which he will determine which conventions he’ll attend. In short, his policy is to only attend conventions that have a clear and public harassment policy, and to not attend conventions that ignore this very real issue.
This was so popular that Scalzi ended up creating a blog page where people can co-sign Scalzi’s harassment policy. And a lot of people have, including me.
Now I not only attend SF conventions, but I speak at or attend a whole lot of computer conferences each year. Arguably Scalzi’s policy only applies to SF conventions, but it occurred to me that it is a worthy policy for professional conferences as well. Perhaps professional conferences have less of an issue with harassment because people attend them as an extension of work or their professional life, not as part of their personal lives. And it probably helps that they don’t have cosplay, though sadly some still do have “booth babes”.
Booth babes seriously degrade our ability to attract and retain talented women in the computer field. Too often female attendees and speakers are treated as if they are attending in the same capacity - as if they don’t exist because there is an assumption that men are there as attendees and women are there as entertainment.
Throughout my career path from data entry guy to CTO of a national technology consulting company, I’ve observed some amazing female technologists sidelined in their careers by a number of factors that most men just don’t have to deal with. It damages these women’s careers, but it also damages our industry, makes our companies and our national talent pool less competitive globally, and I just don’t like seeing the waste of talent.
As a result of this train of thought, I contacted the conference organizer for Live! 360, Visual Studio Live! and Modern Apps Live!. These are conferences I not only speak at, but where I am co-chair or chair from a content perspective. My question to 1105 Media was whether they’d consider having a harassment policy for these conferences, and the response was immediate and positive.
It turns out that there has been at least one instance in the past where having such a policy in place would have been helpful to the conference organizers. Beyond that, as soon as you give even a moment’s thought to the issue it is pretty obvious that having such a policy is only a good thing. Conference organizers want more attendees – that’s how they make money. The more inclusive your conference; the more people are likely to attend, so taking steps to ensure people feel comfortable regardless of gender, race, gender identity, disability, etc. is only a good thing.
Lest you think this issue impacts just me or 1105 Media, this month’s editorial in CODE Magazine coincidentally addresses harassment at conferences as well. The editorial expresses amazement and frustration that anti-harassment policies are necessary – and it is hard to argue with the idea that civilized people shouldn’t need such things. But we live in a world where there are less civilized people that attend the same events as the rest of us, and personally it makes me proud to be affiliated with 1105 and Visual Studio Live! knowing that they also recognize the need for policies to deal with that fringe minority.