Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Codes of conduct

I hope that everything that I have said over the past two posts has sounded logical. I hope that is the result of examining practices rather than being carried along with the tide.

People have the right to dictate who can touch their bodies. That sounds logical. You can make hypothetical cases about when it is not practical, and you can have an emotional feeling of irritation in reaction to being challenged on that. Still, when we realistically discuss why some contacts happen and why they are unwelcome, it becomes hard to defend unwanted touching, as it should be.

I think that serves as an example of the importance of discussion. We have already seen the power the #Metoo conversation has in sharing support and strength, but it has also been educational. People are learning more about what happens, and to whom and by whom, and I hope are motivated to fight against all forms of abuse.

Allow me to suggest that one great starting place is for different groups to examine their codes of conduct relating to sexual harassment.

Focusing on the workplace, larger firms with Human Resources departments probably have a policy in place already. I have already mentioned that one of the discouraging aspects of the discussion lately is how many people have reported their harassment and seen nothing done. Let's build on the existing momentum and start a new discussion that is determined to do better.

Looking at the flaws in the old systems helps. How have reports been handled? It is advisable to have multiple avenues and means of reporting. Someone may have a hard time speaking about it and be more comfortable via email. For others it may be too hard to write it out. And if there is only one person receiving the complaints, that person can become an obstacle for others. A process that is clearly understood and easy to follow improves not only the ability to handle issues, but also the ability of the employees to believe that it does matter.

My first thoughts about conduct codes were inspired by comics conferences, but all types of conferences have added them. They have been added because conferences were often hotbeds of abuse.

Think of it this way: in a local office when there is a predator and complaints don't help, that unofficial network of warning each other provides some protection. Conference travel removes some of the warnings and the inhibitions. Over time some people learn and watch out for each other and warn each other, but it is still not nearly as effective as making and implementing a policy against the harassment.

It doesn't always work out. A little digging will show cases of conventions dragging their feet on consent, often due to a reluctance to break ties with a known harasser. You can find cases of reporters being harassed for their reporting. That is frustrating, but it should also pretty thoroughly establish that these problems will not go away on their own. It requires cooperation, and effort. We can do that.

It can work; some conventions have gotten so much better, and are so much more welcoming. This has been great for business. More people feeling safe attending and staying is good for the convention itself and for individual vendors.

A workplace that works against harassment may lose the contribution of some staff who just don't want to give up on abuse -- that is true. That workplace may also find that there is better collaboration. They may find that people feel more free to contribute ideas and that they are having better ideas now that don't have to waste so much mental energy trying to avoid abuse and healing from abuse.

You may even find that teaching those in leadership positions to treat everyone respectfully - regardless of position - improves their management abilities. There are supervisors who belittle and shame without ever being sexual, but they are still bringing down the working environment for everyone. Sometimes you may have to choose between profits and people, but that doesn't have to be the case.

Attachment to the status quo is often based on this fear that even things you hate are better than the potential chaos of trying to change. If the changes you seek are to improve things for people, and you are openly discussing how to make things better, that's not the likely result. If a system is only held in place by abuse, we will be fine letting go of that system.

So talk about it.

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