What’s important in a code of conduct?

Earlier this week, I published a post about a proposed Tech Community Equality Index, and used it to grade the largest organization in the data community, PASS.

One of the areas where I was critical of PASS is that their Anti-Harassment Policy (AHP) is not trans-inclusive, as it does not protect gender identity or expression. The PASS AHP is limited to “gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or any other protected classification,” and unfortunately that doesn’t include protections for trans folks. What this text implies is, “if the law doesn’t protect you, we don’t protect you.” I don’t think that is PASS’s intent, but rather a bug in their implementation. In the US, the Supreme Court recently ruled in Bostock v Clayton County, GA that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation (including transgender folks) is a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but this only applies to workplace discrimination in the United States, and doesn’t cover non-work events nor international events. Additionally, the PASS policy makes the AHP optional for SQLSaturday, and provides no guidance or mechanism for local user groups to adopt their AHP.

As part of my call to action, I have asked folks to write to PASS and demand that PASS make changes to (1) make their AHP trans-inclusive, and (2) make it mandatory for all events, including user groups & SQLSaturdays operating under agreements with PASS.

I’ve also made a personal commitment to not speak at any user group or event that does not have a clearly-communicated & inclusive code of conduct that prevents discrimination or harassment for all involved. My goal is not to turn away speaking opportunities, but rather to help organizers to provide a more welcoming, more inclusive community, and to help them make that change.

In the last few days, I’ve had many more conversations than expected about individuals, groups, and events adopting inclusive codes of conduct. I’m very pleased & uplifted that the grassroots bottom-up movement to adopt inclusive codes of conduct is gaining steam so fast (faster than the top-down approach I have previously taken via PASS). Please don’t confuse me with an bona fide expert in Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion–I’m a DBA who tries to make the world a better, more inclusive place. It is with that hat, I’m going to try to help you, my dear friend, write an inclusive code of conduct for your events & community.

What’s the purpose of a Code of Conduct?

The purpose of a code of conduct is both simple & complex. At their simplest, they strive to eliminate harassment, bullying, and discrimination. But they are also a bit more complex–they help improve inclusion by ensuring that a person’s otherness does not make them feel like an outsider, but rather that they belong. Communities are a place where we belong, and when actions make people feel excluded those actions are anti-community.

What do we want from a code of conduct?

Since we’re computer nerds, let’s look at building a code of conduct by listing requirements the way we would with user stories for a new product or feature.

This is a super quick start to our “alpha” list. It’s not prioritized or complete. Add your own user stories to the comments. Comments will be moderated. Don’t be a dick.

  • As an community/event organizer, I want attendees to feel included and a sense of belonging.
  • As an event attendee, I want to know that my specific attendance at the event is valued.
  • As an event attendee, I want to be reassured that I will not be harassed or discriminated against because of my differences.
  • As an event attendee, I want to know what to do if I am the victim of, or witness discrimination or harassment.
  • As an event attendee, I want to know the consequences one faces for violating a code of conduct.
  • As an event attendee, I want to feel safe to speak up against behaviors that are not inclusive, or be spoken to if my behavior is not inclusive.
  • As an event attendee, I want to feel safe to have open, humble conversations about non-inclusive behavior and how to do better in the future.
  • As an event attendee, I want to feel safe for my entire experience, not just during specific sessions.
  • As a victim or witness to harassment, I want to be able to find help immediately.
  • As a community/event organizer, I want to make sure everyone is aware of the code of conduct, and it’s consequences. No surprises.

There are some important things to keep in mind when you build your code of conduct. You have to make it visible–every single person should know it exists, and where to look it up. Victims, in particular, need to be able to easily find it, and quickly find out who or where they should go for help. Folks who are in marginalized or under-represented groups need to feel like this code of conduct covers them, specifically. Unfortunately, so many folks have been left behind or let down by codes of conduct in the past that it is now our burden, as allies, to reassure those groups that when we say “everyone” we mean everyone regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, age, sexual orientation, mental or physical ability, physical appearance, body size, race, ethnicity, religion (or lack thereof), technology choices…

What about templates?

This week, I’ve pointed a lot of folks at confcodeofconduct.com. The SQL Server Community Slack has a Code of Conduct that they adapted from the Creative Commons Slack Code of Conduct, which is another great resource for online communities. If you have an event at a Microsoft Reactor space, they have a code of conduct which I love because it is available in multiple languages to match the global nature of their organization. Do you have a code of conduct template you love? Add a link in the comments. Comments will be moderated. Don’t be a dick.

I can’t write your code of conduct for you

Communities & events are as diverse as the people who attend them. There’s no one-size-fits-all code of conduct. I’ll try to curate this page into a guide that makes it easy, but knowing the needs of your community is an important part of making it be a better, more welcoming, more inclusive community.

Please, take to the comments and help me.


  1. As an attendee, I want to feel its safe to speak up and point out behaviors that are discriminatory, and I’d like anyone else to have the opportunity to feel safe telling me if I have stepped over the line and how to properly apologize and make amends, and most importantly, correct my behavior so I don’t do it again.

    • I made two additions to the above list of user stories to try to capture everything in your comment. Let me know if anything was lost in transaction along the way!

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