On codes of conduct for conferences and workshops

Years ago I helped edit a draft of the first INFORMS code of conduct for meetings. I was also on the INFORMS Board, where I argued in favor of a motion to approve the first INFORMS code of conduct. I am thrilled to say that the motion passed [see the latest version of the code of conduct here]. I am proud of this work.

I am knowledgeable on this topic, and I am a mandatory reporter at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am aware that much of the sexual harassment occurs off campus at conferences and while doing field work, where codes of conduct often have not been established. Sexual harassment in field work is highlighted in the documentary Picture a Scientist. When there are no mechanisms for reporting incidents, incidents aren’t reported. Sexual harassment does significant damage to our disciplines and leads to many scientists leaving the field entirely [Read the National Academies’ report [here]. It’s critical that we make our discipline a welcoming place where everyone can flourish.

As of now, 22 people have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment against the University of Michigan Computer Science Professor Walter Lasecki, and many of these allegations occurred at conferences. This has caused me to reflect on the importance of keeping conferences free from harassment, bias, and discrimination. There are so many structural changes we need to make to stamp out harassment, and creating a code of conduct is one of these important structural changes.

I am passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion in operations research, engineering, and academia, and as a result, allies often ask me for suggestions on what they can to do help. For years, I have kept a running list of what allies can do to advocate for underrepresented groups in academia [See the list here]. One of the items on my list is:

Ask conference organizers if there is a code of conduct for meetings to convey the expectation that the conference is to be a welcoming and inclusive space where all attendees feel safe. If not, ask them to create one.

I am happy to say that at least two people (that I know of) have taken me up on this suggestion and created a code of conduct for a workshop or conference. I want to reiterate this request today. This is important for equity, since those from marginalized groups are most affected by harassment, bias, and discrimination.

A code of conduct sets expectations regarding what behavior will not be tolerated and what the consequences will be for violating the policy. Second, it enables an organization to take swift action if it is violated. It’s worth noting that the ACM barred Lasecki from its events and meetings for at least five years for violating its Policy Against Harassment. Third, a code of conduct creates a mechanism to report incidents. Not having a mechanism has been noted in the literature as a major barrier to those who want to report an incident. I realize that a code of conduct will not prevent all incidents or sexual harassment from ever occurring, and therefore, it is equally important to take each allegation seriously and have a process for addressing allegations.

If you want to create a code of conduct, there are many guidelines to help you get started.

* Clancy, K. B., Nelson, R. G., Rutherford, J. N., & Hinde, K. (2014). Survey of academic field experiences (SAFE): Trainees report harassment and assaultPloS one9(7), e102172.

One response to “On codes of conduct for conferences and workshops

  • Dennis Hunter

    During my career in government I developed and implemented environmental regulations, we followed a principle that we did not require regulations prohibiting criminal behavior.  The criminal justice system was built for protecting society against crime not the regulatory system. Sexual harassment is not bad behavior, it is not unethical, and it is not unprofessional: it is criminal and needs to be reported, investigated and prosecuted as criminal behavior. By encapsulating it in codes of conduct is unfair to victims who never get satisfaction for their injuries and to the perpetrators who never get to defend themselves against their accusers. You are not advancing the fight against this problem by protecting offenders under the guise of sanctions in a code of conduct. One perpetrator led away in handcuffs has an amazing impact that demonstrates that an organization is serious about preventing harassment. 

    While I disagree with you on this issue I really enjoy your blog.  Dennis Hunter

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