How a Code of Conduct Works.
Bottom line - your events (from meetup to conference) and even your open source projects need a code of conduct. What is a code of conduct?
- It is an explicit statement about what is - and isn't - appropriate in your space. It sets a social contract that every attendees agrees to, and encourages active enforcement of that social contract.
- It is a promise from you (the organizer) to me (an attendee or speaker). If you break that promise, I am 100% free to leave your project / event without any repercussions.
- It compels a response, even when the organizer would rather ignore a situation.
Let me tell you precisely how a code of conduct works to change interactions during an event.
Last year, I attended a conference as a workshop volunteer. After the workshop, a speaker from the previous day wanted to ask me some follow-up questions about the workshop. While he spoke a little English, he wanted me to step outside to the plaza where his translator was. I agreed.
Let's review the power dynamic here: me = unimportant volunteer, him = very important speaker.
He was from a country where (I suppose), it's common for men to escort women by leading them by the elbow. While we were walking outside, he put his hand on my elbow, and I (being perfectly capable of finding the doors outside) removed it. He again put his hand on my elbow and tried to lead me towards the door. I again removed it, and looked him directly in the eyes and said "no". I then stomped through the doors and found the translator. With the help of the translator, the speaker apologized if he had offended me. I said that I was fine and I answered his questions from the workshop.
Here is how the conference's code of conduct worked: I knew that - regardless of any power imbalance - the conference had my back. I was empowered to enforce my own boundaries and I did so. I was a bit irritated by the incident, but I took care of it myself. Situation resolved, no escalation, no problem. That's how a code of conduct works.