Sunday, December 30, 2012

It Really Should Not Be Necessary To Write This. We're Professionals, Dammit!

Misogyny and sexual harassment in tech circles is a real problem, and one that needs to be addressed head-on.

There are a few things we should be better off without. And the kind of behavior that Cryptoparty organizer Asher Wolf describes in her recent blog post about the goings-on at a fairly high profile hacker event comes in pretty high on my list of stuff that needs to stop right now.

I would have liked to say with some confidence that 'we are better than this', but unfortunately, as this post about DEFCON 20 shows, harassment at tech conferences is a recurring phenomenon. I'm sure searches with appropriate keywords will turn up even more unpleasant tales.

Being white, male and one who only started going to tech conferences with any frequency in my early forties, I have never been the target of anything like this kind of harassment myself, but I must have been fairly close to episodes of that kind, since several of my favorite conferences have adopted clear anti-harrasment policies. You can read BSDCan's here.

The takeaway from that piece should be roughly this: We are professionals.

Conferences are, to professionals, extensions of the workplace, and every conference attendee has the right to be treated like a colleague who attends the conference for the same reason you do -- to meet colleagues and hear news about recent developments in the field.

That includes even the sales rep from some vendor or other manning a booth or somebody giving a talk on a topic you're not interested in. They have the right to be treated as colleagues, even if you think them 'insufficiently technical' (I've had that, never contributed code but keeps lecturing and writing about it all the same) or otherwise undesirable. A professional knows when to just walk away.

To put this all in context, most countries and territories have some sort of legislation that would get you fired or even jailed for the kind of behavior Asher or Valerie describes in a workplace environment, and it should stand to reason that anything that will get you fired at work should get you thrown out of a conference, no refunds or excuses offered or available.

Conferences, even 'hacker' type events, are not intended to be barely supervised summer camp where pranks and bad behavior are generally admired, but from the tales we hear here, it's clear that at least parts of the tech/hacker community is in dire need of adult supervision.

It is up to organizers and attendees to make sure that all conference attendees get 'a harassment-free conference experience for everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion', to quote the BSDCan policy statement.

If you consider yourself a professional in your field, act like one.

If you can do that, I'll be looking forward to seeing you at one of the upcoming conferences. I'll be announcing somewhere near here where and when I'll be giving talks.
Good night and good luck.

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1 comment:

  1. FYI: BSDCan's policy wasn't implemented because of any incident. :)

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