Technology-related conferences and events remain far too male dominated. This not only fails to draw on the expertise and experiences of women, but can also appear threatening to them. Moreover, these events are also often places where women continue to be objectified and where they are still all-too-frequently harassed. Our guidance note seeks to address two main issues: the lack of women speakers, panelists and moderators at ICT conferences and events; and the continued harassment of women by men at such events.
We particularly encourage all organisations working in the field of technology and ICTs to issue guidelines on expected behaviour so that everyone can participate fully and freely at such events. There is some debate about whether guidelines or codes of practice are preferable. In practice, guidelines have some advantages over codes, because codes generally require policing, and the imposition of penalties or sanctions should anyone be found guilty. In practice, this is extremely difficult to implement and enforce. Guidelines, instead, reflect expected norms, and should be acted upon by everyone participating in an event. If someone witnesses inappropriate behaviour, it should be their responsibility to take action to ensure that the perpetrator stops. Offenders can always be asked to leave an event, and organisers can refuse to allow their participation in future such events.
Seven things to do if you are convening an ICT conference or event
- Ensure that there are clear guidelines on expected behaviour that specifically address sexual harassment during your event.
- As far as possible ensure a gender balance among invited speakers and panellists.
- Seek to ensure a gender balance of moderators for panels or sessions.
- Ensure there is a gender balance between hosts and hostesses if the conference decides to have people in such roles.
- Ensure that organisations employ appropriately dressed staff at their stands or displays in any exhibition areas.
- Be pro-active if you see inappropriate behaviour.
- Have a clear and easy channel through which people can reach out for help.
Six things to avoid if you are convening an ICT conference or event
- Permitting or condoning inappropriate sexual behaviour by conference participants, sponsors, or exhibitors during the event.
- Inviting only men to be keynote speakers or panellists.
- Choosing only men to be session moderators.
- Employing only women as hostesses to usher people on to the stage, or act as human signposts during the conference.
- Permitting sponsors or exhibitors to have scantily-clad women at their stands to attract male participants.
- Doing nothing if you see inappropriate behaviour
This Guidance Note was prepared by Tim Unwin and is available for downloading (.pdf format) in English here, in Deutsch hier (translated by Paul Spiesberger), and en español aquí (translated by Maria Garrido).
Useful further guidance can be found from the following sources:
- One of the clearest and most detailed documents is the conference anti-harassment policy template, developed by the Geek Feminism Wiki. This has useful suggested texts of different lengths, with the shortest being “$CONFERENCE is dedicated to a harassment-free conference experience for everyone. Our anti-harassment policy can be found at: [URL for full anti-harassment policy]”.
- The UN’s Standards of Conduct for the International Civil Service has a useful paragraph (21) on harassment: “Harassment in any shape or form is an affront to human dignity and international civil servants must not engage in any form of harassment. International civil servants have the right to a workplace environment free of harassment or abuse”.
- The Internet Governance Forum, has a short and straightforward code of conduct, which begins by stating that participants must “Treat all members of the IGF community equally, irrespective of nationality, gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or beliefs, disability, age, or sexual orientation”.
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