Getting your boss to endorse org-wide anti-harassment stance

Earlier this week, my boss sent an email and published a news article encouraging all Stanford Libraries’ staff to avoid conferences without anti-harassment policies and to advocate for such policies in our professional communities. I wrote earlier about my role in pushing for this.

All it took for Stanford Libraries to take this stance was a quick email exchange between me and my boss, the University Librarian. In the interest of supporting others who want to advocate for the same in their organizations, here is the text of the first email I sent to my boss, recommending that we do this:

Mike-
In light of some pretty awful and pretty public recent incidents of harassment at sci-tech conferences, many high-profile speakers have taken a public stance pledging not to participate in any conference that does not have a clear anti-harassment policy and/or code of conduct (see My New Convention Harassment Policy).
Plenty of library conferences do have good codes of conduct (DLF and Code4Lib for example), but not all do. ALA does not, but there is movement in that direction. This is not about squashing free speech, or about accusing anyone or any conference of past wrong-doing – it is simply about conferences being clear about behavior that will not be tolerated, and provided a clear method for reporting and resolving any problems.
I would like to recommend that Stanford Libraries take a lead on this issue by publicly encouraging our staff to participate only in those conferences and events with clear anti-harassment polices. I will be making such a pledge for myself, and want to encourage my staff to do the same. But I wanted to run the idea by you first, as I think it would be more effective coming from SUL as a whole.I’m happy to draft something for your endorsement.

Thanks for considering,
Chris

The boss pushed back a bit at first, essentially wondering if/why such policies are needed. My original email also made it sound like I was advocating for this as a way to protect our staff from hecklers, which the boss rightly doubted was a big problem. I took a deep breath, and plunged back in:

Mike-
Its not so much about speakers handling hecklers, as it is about (to quote from the DLF code): “providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion.”
It is about providing conference goers with recourse when confronted with sexist, racist, homophobic remarks (sometimes included in presentations). Most codes of conduct are based on same principles as the Fundamental Standard.
The Ada Initiative cites these as the primary reasons for having a code of conduct:

  • Educate attendees in advance that specific behaviors commonly believed to be okay (like groping, pornography in slides, etc.) are not acceptable at this conference.
  • Tell attendees how to report these behaviors if they see them, and assure them they will be treated respectfully if they do so.
  • Have established, documented procedures for how the conference staff will respond to these reports.

My goal in having SUL make a stand is not so much about protecting our staff from harassment as speakers (although that is a worthwhile goal), but is about using our status to put pressure on the conferences that have yet to adopt such policies.

Thanks,
Chris

His response to the second email was essentially, “Oh, got it. Yes, of course. Do it and put my name on it.”

Note that my emails to the boss are littered with the work and words of others — especially the good people at the Ada Intitiative, Code4Lib, and DLF.

I am releasing the text of these emails into the wild, as public domain materials, to be used (with or without attribution) by anyone who thinks they might be useful. Cut and paste, quote liberally or selectively, rearrange, reword, remix to your heart’s content; but hopefully in the spirit of the original. I have heard through grapevines that our announcement has sparked conversations among leaders at some of our peer institutions, and I hope the details here are helpful to those conversations.

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