On Conference Harrassment…

The recent attention given to harassment at conferences was sparked by the  sexual assault described of Noirin Shirley at ApacheCon; her particular attacker’s actions were deranged and criminal, but it’s clearly a variation on an ongoing theme of harassment.

This issue raises two questions for future conferences: how do we prevent an atmosphere which encourages this, and how do we make sure everyone knows that we don’t have such an atmosphere at the conference?  The two are related, but we need both.

Atmosphere matters; let’s not discount its power because it’s intangible.  It is the atmosphere at linux.conf.au which inspires new project and enlivens existing ones among the attendees.  So let’s ensure it’s a positive one, and let’s talk about it.  I’m confident the much-harried LCA organizers will integrate an anti-harassment policy, but I encourage them to do so boldly, loudly and soon. [Correction: They already have. Front page, first paragraph has “LCA2011 is dedicated to a harassment-free conference experience for everyone. See our anti-harassment policy for details.”]

It is worth expending serious effort addressing this problem.  I’ve only experienced prolonged negative sexual stereotyping once; the only help was someone who was unrelentingly positive and set a clear example of welcome, which others followed.  Let’s all try to be like that.

There are two things I promise to try to do this time around:

  1. Assume everyone is a delegate; a far lesser error than being the tenth person who assumes you are a tech-uninterested partner.
  2. Welcome a newcomer, ask about what they hack on and listen, introduce them to someone else, then leave them to it. When I do this, I always learn something.

(This post inspired by Alex, who is encouraging me to be more self-aware, by example).

5 replies on “On Conference Harrassment…”

  1. Jumping on this bandwagon is probably the right thing for LCA to do to attract attendees, particularly female attendees. Anything we can do to right the currently gender imbalance is a good thing.

    It is however unlikely to have any material effect on harassment. Gone unnoticed by you and it seems just about everyone else is the fact that LCA 2011 already has a strong anti-harassment policy (see the terms and conditions, http://lca2011.linux.org.au/register/terms_and_conditions ), it was in place before this kerfuffle. Clearly, nobody actually reads the thing, which I would have thought was a pre-requisite for it having any effect whatsoever.

    I don’t know whether commentary about other open source conferences turning a blind eye to harassment is correct or not, but again it clearly isn’t correct for LCA. LCA has a history of enforcing it, having publicly announced the disciplining and ejecting of people from the conference in at several previous conferences. In fact I think it is fair to say LCA has a proud history or clamping down on harassment, and could said to be a leader in this area.

  2. I would hope that such a policy be more prominently displayed at LCA2011 than as a single section in generic ‘Terms and Conditions’ — I was unaware of that policy being available, and one of my fellow miniconf organisers was similarly unaware.

    In particular, these should be reiterated in places likely to be seen by speakers (for example, in acceptance letters).

  3. LCA2011 is loudly and proudly announcing that it does indeed have a clear and strong stance against harassment, with the just published LCA2011 Anti-Harassment policy.


    Members of the LCA2011 organising committee (including myself) with help from the community both in Australia and abroad, have been working hard to pull this policy together, and the publish button was finally turned to “on” last night.

    Russell is absolutely right to say that the Terms and Conditions are also relevant here, and helps support the policy by linking it to the agreement formed when a ticket is purchased.

    The policy says what we as people on the LCA2011 organising committee stand for, and what we will actually do to try to help the greatest Free and Open Source conference on the planet also be the most inclusive and welcoming.

    The policy has an important role in saying what we as LCA2011 won’t put up with when it comes to behaviour that hurts other delegates. Often its the case that this awful stuff happens firmly connected to but on the periphery of our conferences. The T&C might not apply there, or those involved might not have tickets – this policy says we stand against harassment whenever it is connected to LCA.

    The policy has an educational job to do – helping get the message out.

    While having this covered off in “the fine print” is important, we also need to make it clear to all that we really mean it.

    Also its true that we’ll never know if we have changed things for the better. But many of us have worked really hard in the last few weeks to try to put together something positive. If it just makes one LCA attendees conference experience better because someone thought better, then its worth all the work.

    More questions? Check the Anti-harassment Policy Template Project which has a great set of resources:


    If anyone still has queries feel free to email me – sarah@lca2011.linux.org.au – or the committee – contact@lca2011.linux.org.au

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