Tag Archives: conferences

Quick Hit: a GF approach to events

I help plan technical events at the Wikimedia Foundation. I think we’ve improved in making them more welcoming and inclusive over the course of my time there. We just recently filled to capacity on registration for an upcoming event, and I thought I’d share a few things we’ve done:

  • A friendly space policy
  • Event info page shows photos of people of different genders, allows people to opt in to sharing their names/attendance
  • Registration form doesn’t ask for sex or gender; instead, it asks what kind of t-shirt we should provide (including a “None, thank you” option) and “If you need accommodation: would you prefer to share a room with a woman or with a man?” (options: “women’s rooms”, “men’s rooms”, “either will be fine”)
  • We’ll aim to document as much of the event as possible in realtime text
  • We’re ensuring that at least one of the social events is not booze-oriented
  • I’m working to ensure people can put whatever names they prefer on their badges, including handles/nicks for those who don’t want to share their wallet names
  • Free to attend, and we provide travel sponsorships to encourage participants from far away
  • Hostel very near the venue

I failed at:

  • childcare – just didn’t put in the time to ensure we could provide this
  • ensuring our venue is accessible to those with disabilities (I’m not sure, and didn’t emphasize this as a key criterion when my contact in Berlin was scouting venues)
  • clarifying many of the points above to prospective attendees
  • and probably more

What have you done to make your geek events more welcoming?

Paparazzi with cameras

Re-post: Harassing photography and recording; ethics and policies

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from last year. This post originally appeared on April 28, 2011.

We’re starting to collect some examples of photography/recording harassment experiences (still open , and some of the kinds of problems people mention there and elsewhere are:

  • photography/recording conducted in a way that is designed to hide the fact of the photography/recording from the subject both before and after the shot/recording happens
  • photography/recording that is indifferent to or careless of the subject’s feelings about being photographed/recorded
  • photography/recording that is othering: “wow, women! *click click*” or “hey, babe, smile for the camera!” or later posted with othering, sexist or creepy commentary
  • failing or refusing to stop photographing/recording on an explicit request or appearance of discomfort (eg turning away or frowning or covering one’s face, etc)
  • publishing photographs without the subject’s consent, or after the subject’s explicit refusal of consent
  • use of photographs to implicitly or explicitly endorse an event or community, eg, using pics of smiling participants from the previous year in publicity materials, without consent

Now most of these things are legal in my region (see NSW Photographer’s Rights, which as you will guess from the title is not focussed on subject’s concerns, but which is informative) and in many others. I believe the only exception (in NSW) may be the last, because the use of someone’s image to promote a product requires a model release, that is, consent from the subject. Whether/when using someone’s photo on a website is considered promotion I don’t know but that’s a side point.

For that matter, I’m not even arguing that they should be illegal or actionable (in this piece anyway, perhaps some of them are arguable). I’m sympathetic to many of the uses of non-consensual photography, even (art, journalism, historical documentation). I’m arguing more narrowly that in the context of geek events, which are usually private and which can therefore impose additional restrictions on behaviour as a condition of entry, that restrictions on photography could prevent some harassment. (As a short and possibly sloppy definition for people who haven’t seen many harassment discussions, I would define harassment as “unwelcome interpersonal interactions, which either a reasonable person would know are unwelcome, or which were stated to be unwelcome but continued after that.”)

I’m arguing that this collection of behaviours around photographs makes geek events hostile to some participants, especially women. After all, even though it’s (I think) legal to sneak-photograph a woman’s face, write a little essay about how attractive you find her and try and get it on Flickr Explore even as she emails you to say that she’s upset and repeatedly request that you take it down, that doesn’t mean it’s ethical.

Now, obviously it would be nice not to have to spell ethical behaviour out to people, but the need for anti-harassment policies (and, for that matter, law) makes it clear that geek events do need to do so.

There’s quite a range of possible policies that could be adopted around photography:

  • the status quo, obviously, which at many geek events is that any photography/recording that would be legally allowed in public spaces is allowed there;
  • photography/recording should be treated like other potentially harassing interpersonal interactions at an event, that is, when one person in the interaction says “stop” or “leave me alone” (etc), the interaction must end;
  • photography/recording shouldn’t be done in such a way as to hide from the subject that it’s happening, and upon the subject’s request the photo/footage/etc must be deleted;
  • subjects cannot be photographed/recorded without prior explicit consent; and/or
  • the above combined with some kind of explicit opt-in or opt-out marking so that one doesn’t need to necessarily ask every time if one can see the marking (in various conversations on this I have to say my main concern tends to be the need to peer closely at people’s chests to see their “PHOTOS/VIDEOS OK” or “NO PHOTOS/VIDEOS” marking on their badge, however, Skud says it works well at Wiscon).

There might be certain additional freedoms or restrictions regarding crowd photography/recording and/or photography/recording of organisers, scheduled speakers and people actively highlighted in similar formal events.

What do you think? Whether a photographer/videographer/recorder or subject of same, what do you think appropriate ethics are when photographing/recording at private geek events, and what do you think could/should be codified as policy?

Note to commenters: there are a couple of things that tend to come up a lot in these sorts of discussions, which are:

  1. “but this is perfectly legal [in my jurisdiction]“
  2. some geeks, including geek photographers, are shy and asking strangers for permission to photograph them is a confronting interaction, and thus very hard on shy people

I’m not saying that you need to totally avoid discussion of these points in comments here, but you can safely assume that everyone knows these points and has to some degree taken them into account and go from there. (My own perspective on the last one is that it’s odd at best to pay an enormous amount of heed to the social comfort of photographers at the expense of their subjects. You could, of course, consider both together.) Also if talking about legal aspects, do specify which jurisdiction(s) you are talking about: this is an area where laws vary substantially.

Valerie Aurora

A personal appeal for support from Valerie Aurora, executive director of the Ada Initiative

Valerie Aurora

I’m writing to ask you to donate to the Ada Initiative.

A year ago, a friend of mine was groped at an open source conference. Again. I’ve personally been groped twice at conferences myself.

But what shocked me most was the reaction to her blog post about it. Hundreds of people made comments like, “Women should expect to get groped at conferences,” and “It was her fault.” Many of these people were members of the open source community. Some were even prominent leaders – that I was forced to work with directly in my job as a Linux kernel developer! I realized I’d felt alienated, unwelcome, and unsafe as a woman in open source for many years. I was furious and determined to make a difference.

So I quit my job and co-founded the Ada Initiative with Mary Gardiner. We are the only non-profit dedicated solely to increasing the participation of women in open source, Wikipedia, fan culture, and other areas of open technology and culture. Currently, women make up only 2% of the open source community, and 9% of Wikipedia editors, down from 13% a year ago. We want to change these trends.

You can help by donating or by spreading the word about our donation drive now:

Donate now!

Help spread the word

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished already. Since our founding in early 2011, we helped over 30 conferences and organizations adopt an anti-harassment policy, organized the first AdaCamp unconference, provided free consulting on high-profile sexist incidents, wrote and taught two workshops on supporting women in open tech/culture, and ran two surveys, among other things.

http://adainitiative.org/what-we-do/

We need your help to achieve our upcoming goals. The Ada Initiative is funded entirely by donations. Without your financial support, the Ada Initiative will have to shut down in early 2012.

http://supportada.org/donate

Your donations will fund upcoming projects like: Ada’s Advice, a comprehensive guide to resources for helping women in open tech/culture, Ada’s Careers, a career development community, and First Patch Week, where we help women create and submit their first open source patch. You can learn more about how the Ada Initiative is organized and operated on our web site and blog.

Whether or not you can donate yourself, you can help us by spreading the word about our fundraising drive. Please tell your friends about our important work. Email, blog, add our donation button to your web site, and tweet. You don’t have to stand on the sidelines any longer. You can help women in open technology and culture, starting today.

A woman holds a sign with Rebecca West's 'differentiate me from a doormat' quote

Example conference anti-harassment policy turns one year old

This is a cross-post from the Ada Initiative’s blog. The Ada Initiative has put a lot of effort into helping conferences understand and adopt some form of anti-harassment policy. Your donations will help us continue to promote the policy and do similar work. Thanks!

November 29 was the one year anniversary of the publication of the example conference anti-harassment policy! Inspired by multiple reports of groping, sexual assault, and pornography at open tech/culture conferences, the Ada Initiative co-founders helped write and publish an example conference anti-harassment policy for modification and reuse by conference organizers. This example was the collaborative effort of many different conference organizers and community members, who all deserve thanks and credit.

One year later, over 30 conferences have adopted an anti-harassment policy of one kind or another. “More than 30″ is a rough lower bound; several organizations have adopted a policy for all their events and run a dozen or more events per year. Some of the organizations that have announced that all their conferences will have a policy include Linux Foundation, ACM SIGPLAN, and O’Reilly (pledged). Here’s why some conferences have adopted a policy, in the organizers’ own words:

Tim O’Reilly: “[...] It’s become clear that this is a real, long-standing issue in the technical community. And we do know this: we don’t condone harassment or offensive behavior, at our conferences or anywhere. It’s counter to our company values. More importantly, it’s counter to our values as human beings.”

Jacob Kaplan-Moss, co-organizer of PyCon US, speaking for himself in this post: “A published code of conduct tells me that the conference staff cares about these issues, takes them seriously, and is waiting and willing to listen if an incident happens. It’s by no means a solution to the depressing homogeneity of technical communities, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

ACM SIGPLAN: “This policy has been in the works at the ACM SIGPLAN for several months; SPLASH 2011 is proud to be both the driver for that effort and the first ACM conference with such policy in place. This policy is not a symbolic gesture, delivered to satisfy a perceived need for political correctness, but instead goes to the core of both our personal beliefs and the beliefs of the community as a whole.”

Like any good open source project, the policy has been forked, adapted, and rewritten from scratch several times. Conference organizers looking to adopt a policy now can choose from several different policies. Many policies are linked to from this list of conferences with a policy; if you know a conference that is missing, please add it!

Some history

Why write an example anti-harassment policy? What we discovered after a little research (aided by the timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities) was the following:

  • Often, the person doing the groping, harassing, or showing of pornography honestly believed that their behavior was acceptable for the venue. Just as often, many other people went on record agreeing with them.
  • People who saw these incidents didn’t know how to respond to these incidents or weren’t sure who to report them to.
  • Conference organizers sometimes didn’t learn about an incident until long after it happened. When they did find out in time to take action, they often didn’t know how to respond to the incident.

We looked at these facts and figured it might help if conference organizers had an easy way to:

  • Educate attendees in advance that specific behaviors commonly believed to be okay (like groping, pornography in slides, etc.) are not acceptable at this conference.
  • Tell attendees how to report these behaviors if they see them, and assure them they will be treated respectfully if they do so.
  • Have established, documented procedures for how the conference staff will respond to these reports.

But we knew that conference organizers are very busy people, and very few of them had the time to write something like this. We figured that if we wrote an example policy that could be easily adapted to their needs, we could save them a lot of time and energy, and reduce harassment at conferences at the same time.

One year later, it looks like we had the right idea! Now it’s almost easier to attend a open tech/culture conference with a policy than one without. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, from attendees of all genders to speakers to organizers, and especially conference sponsors. Sponsors like any way to reduce the chance that their name will be associated with bad press.

You can help encourage adoption

Our goal is to make policies like this obsolete because everyone knows how to go to a conference without ruining it for the people around them. But we’re clearly not there yet, as this incident from October 2011 shows. One way you can help change the culture of open technology and culture is by encouraging the adoption of a similar policy by the conferences you attend.

Here are some of the common arguments against adopting a policy that addresses the three points we describe above.

This has/will never happen at my conference!

Congratulations! Some conferences are small enough or exclusive enough that it’s easy to end up with a group of people who all agree about appropriate conference behavior. Generally speaking though, as a conference gets larger or easier to attend, the mathematical probability of someone with significantly different ideas attending the conference increases until it is a near-certainty.

Next, if you believe there’s never been harassment at your conference, you might want to do a little asking around. If you don’t have a well-publicized method to contact the organizers about harassment at the conference, you’re unlikely to hear about it. When this policy was first posted, many organizers went back and asked attendees if they’d ever heard of harassment at previous conferences they had run and found the answer to be yes surprisingly often.

Finally, a great way to keep up a perfect record of no harassment is to adopt a policy that tells attendees you expect them not to harass each other.

Listing specific behaviors is unnecessary/insulting/ineffective/negative/etc.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming evidence from previous incidents shows that many of the people involved had absolutely no idea that what they were doing was unacceptable – and in fact were quite angry to discover that there were some unspoken rules that no one told them about. You may not enjoy telling people the rules specifically, but people hate breaking rules unknowingly even more.

To be blunt, a non-trivial percentage of speakers at open tech/culture conferences view pornography in their slides as simply good speaking technique. Telling them, e.g., to only include material suitable for a diverse audience won’t change their behavior because they believe everyone enjoys a little pornography in their technical talk. The only way they are going to stop including pornography in their slides is if you tell them not to, in so many words. Another non-trivial percentage believe it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to touch a woman on any part of her body without her consent if either the man or the woman is drinking alcohol. They believe this is appropriate behavior, so asking them to, e.g., “Be respectful of other people” is not specific enough to change their behavior.

This policy will hamper free speech and ruin my talk!

Conferences and their topics vary, but we have yet to attend a conference in open technology and culture in which a talk required the harassment of attendees in order to get information across. We’re not sure, but we suspect you can, e.g., teach people about file system semantics and keep the audience’s attention without employing sexist jokes. (I’ve done it more than once!)

Conferences in which talks about sexuality, racism, etc. are on-topic are encouraged to add exceptions for these talks and give guidelines on talking about the subject while respecting the attendees. We encourage them to send us their modifications so we can add them to the options in the example policy. Here is one example of the policy as applied to a talk about sexuality by Cindy Gallop at the Open Video Conference 2011.

In the end, you can always vote with your feet – you can preferentially attend, speak at, and help organize conferences with policies against harassment.

A note: We want to explicitly acknowledge the fact that harassment at conferences is not just a problem for women; in fact, we’ve heard many reports of men being the target of harassment, or being disgusted or creeped out by other attendees’ behavior. In this as in many cases, the changes that make open technology and culture more welcoming (and safer) for women are the same ones that make it more welcoming for everyone.

T-shirts, YET AGAIN.

Are we really doing this again? I just tried to register (as a speaker) for an upcoming tech conference. One that prides itself on its woman-friendliness, no less: they have an anti-harassment policy, a track devoted to women in the field, and photos of women on the front page of their website.

The registration form asked me what sized t-shirt I’d like, and offered only straight-cut shirts: the kind that are often sold as “unisex” but, in fact, only fit people who have approximately the same chest, waist, and hip measurements — a group disproportionately made up of men.

So, with a sigh, I left the t-shirt field blank and submitted the form, only to receive an error message. I wasn’t allowed to register without taking an ill-fitting t-shirt that I didn’t want. I’m told this was a bug with the registration system, and has now been fixed so that you can opt out of the t-shirt altogether, but I’m saddened by the whole process and it’s making me reconsider whether I want to attend this conference at all.

Event t-shirts are something that stress me out EVERY SINGLE TIME. Endless indignities and insults. Every time I go somewhere, I have to go through a process that reminds me that I’m different and don’t fit in, because I have a female body.

It goes something like this:

What sized t-shirt do you want? Oh, no, we don’t have fitted/women’s sizes. These are unisex! They fit everyone! As long as you like wearing a tent that chafes and chokes you, and why wouldn’t you? THEY FIT EVERYONE.

We have girl’s sizes! They’re designed for actual pre-pubescent girls, but they’re nice and stretchy! They’ll show off your breasts REALLY WELL. Oh, and the logo we’ve printed across them will just serve to make the guys stare even harder. You won’t find that distracting at all when you’re trying to concentrate on the conference, will you?

Your breasts aren’t that big. Let me just look at them a bit and assess them. Hmmm. Mmmm. Yup, pretty sure you can wear a unisex tshirt. I, man, have spoken!

Are you sure? Please provide me with your measurements. Because that’s not creepy or undignified at all. While you’re at it, we’d like your mother’s maiden name and social security number.

Well, you can take a men’s shirt and wear it to sleep in! Because everyone wants to sleep in big ugly t-shirts, and needs dozens of them just for that purpose. Anyway, why would women want to wear a t-shirt AT THE CONFERENCE where they could actually, you know, be part of the in-group and feel like they belonged?

Staff must wear the shirt. You’re working the registration desk, staffing a booth on the expo floor, or giving a talk, and we want you to have our logo emblazoned across your chest. Obviously feeling comfortable and self-confident, being well groomed, and giving a good impression to others, are less important than that.

Group photo time! Let’s get everyone in their t-shirt! What do you mean you don’t have one, or don’t want to wear it? Why aren’t you participating? You obviously don’t want to be part of our community. Here, borrow one, and SMILE! Now everyone can mock you online for how ugly you look.

Oh look, it’s a newbie. She doesn’t even have a geeky t-shirt to fit in with the in crowd. She’s probably here with her boyfriend. (If she were wearing a shirt from that great conference five years ago, we might have at least thought twice before assuming that.)

I’m fucking sick of this. Don’t tell me you “worked hard” to get fitted t-shirts when you didn’t look at more than one supplier, or ask people who might know anything about it (for instance: other conferences that managed to supply fitted t-shirts, local women-in-tech groups, this very blog.) The Geek Feminism Wiki has a page full of t-shirt related tips and recommended suppliers for starters. THERE IS NO EXCUSE.

Pillar covered by colourful advertising bills

Linkspamming backwards in high heels (17th September, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Pillar covered by colourful advertising bills

A merry linkspamming band (1st September, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Group of male-type and female-type body symbols, 8 male, 2 female

More is different

This is a guest post by Brianna Laugher. Brianna is a software developer who appreciates significant whitespace. She is also known around the web as pfctdayelise.

I have spent the past weekend in Sydney attending PyCon AU, the second Australian conference for the Python programming language. It’s only the second time this conference has been held, but attendance grew by 50% (from 200 to 300) and to my mind, the programme was noticably better as well. (I might be biased though, as I appeared in it.)

However by far the most cheering aspect to me was the extent to which the organisers made efforts to make it a women-friendly event. They had diversity grants to attract women who would not otherwise be able to attend. They had a code of conduct, announced it each morning, and reiterated it when they informed delegates that they had had to enforce it. They announced a ‘women in Python’ breakfast as part of their schedule. And they invited two women keynotes: Audrey Roy of PyLadies, and GF’s own Mary Gardiner of the Ada Initiative, both organisations that support women in software development, more-or-less broadly.

Their efforts paid off: women’s attendance increased from 10 last year (5%), to 35 this year (11.6%).

It made a visceral difference to my experience: instead of glancing around and finding myself the only woman in a room, this year there was always women in my line of sight. It was so nice to talk to many different women from all over the country and find out how they are using Python. It’s so nice to have conversations where you know for sure that you are ordinary rather than exceptional. I mean literally, being viewed as an exception. It’s so nice to know you can confess all you don’t know, without feeling that you might be [http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Stereotype_threat ruining the reputation of women everywhere].

After there was a lightning talk about the Girl Geek Coffees network, @fphhotchips opined,

While I understand that there are many issues with women in IT/SE, I wonder if so many groups for women results in exclusion.

It’s not clear to me what kind of exclusion @fphhotchips is concerned about. Men missing out on their fair share of geeky conversations with women? That would be disappointing I suppose, although those conversations can happen at any time during the conference. But the flipside is an order of magnitude more important: most women in software developer roles in Australia miss out every single day on the chance to see themselves reflected amongst their peers and their seniors. Reflected in numbers that cannot be reduced to an enumerable number of individuals: that is, the feeling of 10 is different to the feeling of 35. More, as they say, is different.

Maybe once a month, at a “girl geek” event, or once a year at a women-focused event at a conference, can technical women enjoy relief from a mental burden that they may not even consciously realise they are carrying. It is not the world’s hugest burden by any measure, but it exists, and can keep us self-silencing, self-doubting, and generally takes away our energy from changing the world, or at least making the next release deadline.

When the burden is lifted, we can enjoy a brief respite called freedom. Freedom to admit mistakes. Freedom to not have to wonder if someone reacted some particular way because you’re a woman. Freedom to compliment someone on their cute bag without being seen as frivolous or invoking an unwanted reminder to others that you are a woman. Freedom to enjoy the norms of speech that women more commonly (but not exclusively) follow, like turn-taking. Freedom to make a (radical!) feminist comment without hurting anyone’s ego. Freedom to not represent 50% of the population. And I am not even getting into the much heavier burdens that some women bear, with actively hostile workplaces, harassment, the need to conceal aspects of themselves for their own safety.

Freedom to look around and see people like you. For some of us it comes around more often than others. If you see an event for women happening and feel left out, just chill out and remember we’ll soon enough be back to our usual distribution. And remember that we, as presumably you do too, want most of all to not need to hold such events. And when we are more, we will not.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Remorseless husband-stealing no-good linkspams (15th August, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

linux.conf.au 2007 speaker panel grouped on stage

Conference speakers: Support anti-harassment policies in your speaker proposals

The Linux.conf.au 2012 proposal deadline is in a few hours, which gives you plenty of time to cut and paste the following into your speaker proposal:

I believe conferences should provide a safe, harassment-free environment for everyone. I ask $CONFERENCE to officially adopt and enforce a code of conduct or policy for attendee behavior that specifically forbids known problem behaviors such as pornography in public spaces, sexual harassment, and bullying.

If $CONFERENCE does not have a policy in place by the speaker notification deadline, I must regretfully decline any invitation to speak.

For more information, see:

http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Anti-harassment_policy_resources

http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline_of_incidents

Conferences value their speakers’ opinions greatly and listen when they speak. Donna Benjamin showed this when she organized a demonstration of support for a code of conduct at OSCON 2011; at least nine speakers in favor of the proposal edited their official OSCON speaker biographies to include a statement of support.