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 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).