Sexual Harassment at Technical Conferences: A Big No-No

We’ve been contacted recently about issues of sexual harassment at technical conferences, including at Oscon, which starts tomorrow in Portland. At O’Reilly we take those issues very seriously. While we’re still trying to understand exactly what might have happened at Oscon or other O’Reilly conferences in the past, it’s become clear that this is a real, long-standing issue in the technical community. And we do know this: we don’t condone harassment or offensive behavior, at our conferences or anywhere. It’s counter to our company values. More importantly, it’s counter to our values as human beings.

We’re voicing our strong, unequivocal support of appropriate behavior by all participants at technical events, including Oscon and other O’Reilly conferences. We invite you to help us make Oscon a place that is welcoming and respectful to all participants, so everyone can focus on the conference itself, and the great networking and community richness that can happen when we get together in person.

One issue that has come up at some technical conferences is sexual or racist comments or images in slides. This is not appropriate. Speakers and exhibitors should use good judgment; if we hear complaints and we think they are warranted, you may not be invited back.

Even more alarmingly, we’ve heard accounts of female attendees having to put up with stalking, offensive comments, and unwanted sexual advances. I’d like to borrow a line from the Flickr Community Guidelines, which use the term Creepiness as follows: “You know that guy. Don’t be that guy.” If we hear that you are that guy, we will investigate, and you may be asked to leave.

Please bring any concerns to the immediate attention of the event staff, or contact our VP of Conferences, Gina Blaber at We thank our attendees for their help in keeping the event welcoming, respectful, and friendly to all participants.

P.S. We are going to adapt this blog post into a “Code of Conduct” that will become part of the web site registration materials for all of our conferences.

  • While I’m sorry I won’t be able to make it to OSCON this year, I’m glad to hear that you’ve committed to adopt a code of conduct and that you’ve covered the most important points preemptively. Have a great week!

  • Jim

    Good that you’re addressing this and making an effort. That may not solve the problem, but you’ll never solve the problem if you don’t state a position and make an effort. It’s worth the effort. Keep after it.

  • Mike

    I hope you intend to include language aimed at protecting LGBT attendees as well.

  • So, who is committing the worse act of sexual harrassment/misconduct – those who make sure they are “manning” boothes with cute babes; or, or those who come on to them? BXL

  • Bob O`Bob

    I agree with your goal, and vehemently disagree with your suggestion.

    In my opinion, if it needs any special language to protect a specific group or groups (such as your LGBT example) then it had not been designed adequately in the first place.

  • Amanda

    I’m glad that someone takes this seriously. I’m personally tired of being seen as a “booth babe” at conferences, especially given that I can hold my own in a technical conversation. It’s even more offensive when people try to pick me up at the booth like I’m interested in hooking up with potential customers as if it’s okay. Just some female input :) I’m looking forward to OSCON this year and hope that these sorts of actions won’t become a problem!

  • Betsy HP

    Thank you very much for stepping up.

  • Anonymous

    i’m glad to see OSCON is looking out for various minority groups.

    i certainly hope OSCON will be equally responsive to those with recognized disabilities such as autism and aspergers, which can lead to mishandling social situations, and won’t be discriminating against this group which constitutes a large percentage of the tech industry.

  • Thanks Tim and O’Reilly for working hard to make a great environment for everyone who participates.

  • Robert David Graham

    I’m sure a Code of Conduct is just the thing to limit free expression at your conferences. After all, people shouldn’t be too free.

  • Thank you for this! It’s sorely appreciated.

  • @Robert If people weren’t idiots in the first place there’d be no need for a code of conduct.

    Good work Tim & the OSCON crew.

  • Awesome post, Tim! Thanks!


    I agree with you. Homophobia, transphobia, and similar things are widely regarded as acceptable in geek culture. Conference attendees who make, e.g., gay jokes, are usually completely unaware that they have said anything objectionable at all, and are unlikely to stop unless it’s explicitly pointed out that they shouldn’t do it.

    The Geek Feminism example policy includes some specific LGBT language but it’s not very well thought out. We’d appreciate your review and suggestions.

  • Grant

    I just can’t believe that anyone would ever consider any of this behaviour to be acceptable – whether it is language/images on slides, words in talks, treatment of stall staff, etc.
    It would never even enter my head. People should not have to think hard about avoiding offensive words/actions, because they just shouldn’t be part of their normal behaviour.
    Good on O’Reilly for stomping on this unacceptable, stupid behaviour

  • Thank you.

  • Stunning that this requires a written code. A solid shaming in the event’s public comment stream, coupled with a threat to not be invited back should be sufficient. I guess you have to write it down to make it clear and set expectations. Still, it’s stunning.

  • Bruce Byfield

    It’s good to see a community leader confronting the problem with no attempt at denial and acting so quickly.

  • It’s thirty years this year since Tracy Kidder’s Soul of a New Machine came out, when I was twenty-two and a young female software engineer. Go read it, for a lot of reasons. The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s the Mad Men of software engineering.

    It was a very hard time to be a woman in this field. If you read that book you will probably get a decent feel for how casually sexist the environment was, and I think Kidder tones down some of the behavior in his boys-will-be-boys congenial style.

    We have come a long way baby. Not far enough.

    Perhaps the best code of conduct might be, behave like professionals, and don’t be a creep. If you can do both of those, code and chew gum, maybe you’ll survive the next 30 years.

  • jd

    Great to see a pro-active approach. Regarding “booth babes” mentioned in other comments, it would be best to assume that most people at tech conferences, male or female, hot or not, are geeks.

  • Maybe it can be a firmer with some absolutes. Not “you may be asked to leave” but “You will be asked to leave.”. The more anyone thinks they might be able to get away it when others cannot, it encourages this behavior. Trust me when I say this, it’s the “powerful” people who think their behavior will never be busted.

  • Kevin potts

    Please replace the word “may” with “will” and I will be more inclined to take this seriously. A presenter that uses inappropriate slides WILL NOT be invited back; an attendee being “creepy” WILL be asked to leave. there is no middle ground with this behavior and it should be smacked down as harshly as possible.

  • Carla Schroder

    Thanks Tim! This is a welcome policy, and so is your unequivocal straightforward support.

  • Anonymous

    In so many years at O’Reilly technical conferences, I have never witnessed inappropriate behavior. Just for the record, since the “political correctness” crowd will no doubt blow this out of proportion, as always.

    If you are a creep, harass somebody, or act in an offensive way you will be in trouble. That should be obvious, and those who think “policies” are the way to handle everything should check their common sense.

    In any event, the O’Reilly policy may be a good thing. But snowballing from there into needing special language for every group you can think of would be pathetic – you should read that piece “everything I needed to know to do this job I learned in kindergarden” – do you need “Policy” to be stated to know how to behave yourself like a civilized human being in the company of others? really? Do you need a written label to know better than to dry the cat in the microwave?

  • Sean Palmer

    Being a creep isn’t a crime. The reason they say “may” instead of “will” is because offense is subjective, and some people may complain about something that just isn’t that big a deal. Or they might even be wrong – mistakes happen. Oscon isn’t cracking down on free speech, they realize there’s a huge grey area and that they’re only interested in the really obviously inappropriate stuff.

  • @Nilofer I agree that some (nay, many) powerful people think the rules won’t apply to them, but I think it’s also important to leave room for discretion by the organizers. One of the approaches I’ve heard of is explicitly listing keynote speakers and organizers as people that the policy applies to. What do you think?

  • @Anonymous @7:54pm
    A policy tells people the issue is serious. It especially speaks to those who’ve experienced this behaviour that efforts are being made to stop it happening again. A policy won’t stop jerks and arseholes from being jerks and arseholes, but it will give organisers and others the tools to act against that behaviour when it happens.

    As for you yourself not witnessing this kind of thing? Here’s some background reading for you.

  • Sean, you’ve got it exactly. I very consciously used “may” rather than “will” for the reason you outline. There are certainly offenses for which the answer is “will definitely” and others for which a reprimand and an apology may be sufficient, still others for which the evidence shows that offense was taken but not intended or caused.

  • Terrific idea. Thanks to everyone involved who work diligently to keep us safe from ourselves. It really does take a village. Keep up the good work! I already feel safer.

  • Anonymous – I agree with you. Too much language dilutes the point. That’s why I liked the Flickr formulation so much. You know it when you see it; we don’t want to get into a situation where someone can protest, “But you said this, but not that….”

    @Bob O’Bob – if we hear reports of harassment against anyone of LGBT orientation, we’ll add it. But adding it just in case seemed like a bad idea. We had reports of specific problems, and it seemed to me that identifying the specific problems we’ve heard about rather than lumping them in with all kinds of possible problems is stronger, rather than weaker.

  • It’s crazy that in 2011 you’d have to write this post and create this guidance. But I am grateful for your commitment to ensuring a positive environment for everyone. Thanks for taking this seriously and stepping out to do something.

  • Thank you, Tim. Women have a lot of value to offer to the world of technology, but not if we are made to feel as if our appearances rather than our competencies and insights are our biggest contributions to the tech community. It’s such a waste of brain power.

    I hope this sets a precedent not only for tech conferences, but for blogs, happy hours, as well as work environments. We can do this.

  • Anonymous

    I applaud you for taking this on board and being proactive O’Reilly. Good stuff.

    On the other hand, I am disappointed that it’s needed in the first place.

  • Sam

    Sexual harrasment once in a while is good…. both for male and female.. It reminds you that everyone is a human being and to err is humane and to forgive is divine.. so start forgiving instead of reporting to freakin HR … *enjoys till it lasts*

    -Hope ya`ll understand what i mean ;)

  • Ange

    Er, no Sam, sexual harassment is not good once in a while, the clue is in the word “harassment” – it is unwelcome

    This is why you need a policy, sigh.

  • I’m glad that the policy is out there. I know of at least one friend who has had problems with stalkers at tech conferences, so this is a great move.

    However, let’s hope that the booth babe situation is made really clear to exhibitors. I don’t want to see a model in a skimpy outfit – male or female. I want folks (male or female) who can talk to me in depth about their products at the Exhibition. Otherwise, the Exhibition is a huge waste of my time and demeaning to all attendees, not just women.

    I find booth babes quite offensive and blacklist vendors who use them, such as at AusCERT this year. I should never ever have to explain to my daughter why some women at conferences are like daddy, and why some are not wearing all their clothes.

  • Tim, Thank you for introducing a written policy on sexual harassment at technical conferences. Your policy seems quite appropriate. We do indeed have a problem with sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the open source community. (Talk with any woman in the community. Talk with my wife.) A written policy makes it easier to enforce common sense. On the other hand, I’m glad there is some wiggle room in your policy. You may take some flack over this, but it puts you in a better position to handle situations where there is a genuine misunderstanding or a correctable situation.

  • Tim,

    I consider the last part of your message sexist.

    The quote you use is adressed to “this guy” implying only male attendees are harrassing. I have a documented history of seeing far more sexist and offensive messages from female attendees and speakers at tech conferences. Organisers tend to let speakers openly say that women are better, especially at gender-focused conferences, and that is increasingly scaring me.

    I would appreciate you re-consider that quote.

  • Birtil: It is sexist to assume that “guy” is used exclusively for males. (To be honest, possibly not sexist but it is a false assumption.)

    Tim: I applaud your initiative. Writing it down should not be necessary, but infortunately it is. A written statement may cause a pause for thought and reconsideration of a few slides.

  • SSG

    Creepy: Unattractive.

    Unwanted attention: Attention shown by an unattractive person.

  • @ Tim: good one, thanks, well done.

    @ SSG: Not true. I think I know what you mean: that people are in general more likely to welcome the attention of physically attractive people. I wouldn’t argue with that as a statistical tendency, allowing for the fact that tastes vary.

    But having been bothered in a creepy way by a perfectly-reasonable-looking man not that long ago, I can assure you that what you’ve actually said here is 100% wrong. His behaviour was creepy, and even if he’d been outstandingly beautiful his behaviour would still have been creepy. Not the worst of the worst, I didn’t feel my physical safety was at risk, but inappropriate enough that I felt EWWWWWWWWW RUN AWAY FROM THE ICKINESS!!

    (He’s an acquaintance, and I found the mojo to bring up the subject next time I saw him, and even _he_ agreed he’d gone over the line.)

    So yeah. The territory is a little bit different along the beauty spectrum, but icky is still icky.

    I’m also pretty sure that some not-so-good-looking blokes think “she only knocked me back because I’m not as good looking as the other guy” when in fact their behaviour was less than 100% attractive (or less than 100% respectful). I’m not saying there’s no such thing as being turned down for physical unattractiveness, but behaviour counts for a lot more than I suspect most men probably think.

    @ everyone: A link which is somewhat relevant to my previous paragraph, and also very much relevant to the original post:


  • I really like CodeMash’s anti-harassment policy, which covers all of the above as well as platform of choice and preferred text editor: (scroll way down)

  • Amy

    @doug – I suspect it was the previous “Even more alarmingly, we’ve heard accounts of female attendees having to put up with stalking, offensive comments, and unwanted sexual advances” more than the following “that guy” that Britil was addressing.

    And I agree. I’m a girl in the tech industry, and I’ve seen plenty of sexism my side of the fence, but I’ve also seen plenty the other… and none of it is okay. If what someone is doing makes another person uncomfortable, then it’s just not okay. And that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable line to draw.

    There’s nothing wrong with telling someone you think is hot/awesome that you think they’re hot/awesome … I’m not saying ‘don’t tell people you like that you like them’… but don’t be a dick. If someone says no, or looks freaked out, or moves away, regardless of their gender or yours, step away. Plenty of other fish in the sea and all that.

  • Donna

    Too many idle geeks at these conferences, and in the world in general. We used to have a solution for that – periodic world wars.

  • Donna,

    Calling mass murders of one gender (male) a ‘solution’ is rather typical of what I was hoping would be deemed utterly unacceptable by this newly expressed policy.

  • Bruce

    “We used to have a solution for that – periodic world wars.”

    That’s offensive.

  • Great to see OSCON joining SCALE, SELF, LibrePlanet and others by taking a stand against this kind of behavior!

    @anyone making the misleading “free speech” argument; OSCON (and other tech conferences) exist to grow their community. Sexist behavior runs counter to that goal.

    Put another way: Free speech doesn’t mean you can come to my house and I have to allow you to come in and criticize my paint choices anymore than it means that O’Reilly has to allow someone to come to a conference they’ve spent hundreds of hours organizing and ruin the welcoming atmosphere they’ve worked to create.

  • Thanks, Tim, for the quick response and statement. I think your reference to the Flickr policy fits the OSCON community well.

  • It’s one thing to post a code of conduct.

    It’s another to insist that the panels are 50% women.

    Instead of merely saying “now boys, be nice and behave yourselves — there may be ladies present” — why not back it up with a commitment to panel diversity?

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for posting– I hope this information gets translated to Microsoft Conferences where the treatment of women in attendance is horrible, year over year.

  • Chris Spurgeon

    Well done for making these rules explicitly known to all conference attendees and speakers.

    Let me throw out another suggestion. (I’m frankly of two minds as to whether this is a good idea or not, just tossing it out here).

    If you do ask someone to leave a conference for inappropriate behavior, and they’re there as a representative of a company, what about also letting that company’s HR department know? At the company I currently work at if you attend a conference on their dime the assumption is that you are there as a representative of the company, and damn well better behave accordingly. Our HR department would absolutely want to know about it if I was tossed from a conference for being “that guy”.

  • gaba

    Great that you are speaking up for this! It was really needed to hear that people at O’Reilly care about this. Thanks!

  • The new political correctness: Dismissing other people’s ideas by calling them political correctness.

    And yes, I find the recursive nature of that statement amusing.

  • Will this code of conduct also apply to swag provided by vendors in the Exhibit Hall? At my first OSCON (2007) I felt that Open Garden was promoting a sexualized environment by having a woman in a white toga give out t-shirts labeled “I sowed my seeds at OSCON”. It me made me feel uncomfortable to be around any guy that picked the shirt up, and the woman handing out shirts looked pretty uncomfortable herself. Will vendors or sponsors not get invited back if they violate the code of conduct?

  • There was a lightning talk in Minnesota where I had craigslist M4T up when they flipped the projector over to me, as if I were casually browsing and got caught off guard. The general consensus was that that was highly inappropriate. That was after some other inappropriate things that were not at all sex related. Some observations based on this:

    1. I am the problem. Tim, you weren’t sure what the problem looks like. Well, there ya go. I’m not the only instance of it, of course.
    2. Despite talk, it’s really hard to get thrown out of a tech conference. Word on the street was they were discussing in private whether they would send someone to talk to me and who. HA!
    3. There already weren’t any ladies or lady-boys there, hardly, or anything else. Everyone might as well have been wearing lavender sweater vests. The conference should worry more about being lame. DEFCON, on the other hand, is far more diverse, interesting, and offensive. People are also about a thousand billion times more likely to shout, “hey, piss off, creep!” rather than having a secret meeting about you. I think the odds of getting a boot to the face are infinitely higher at DEFCON.

    Next year, I’m going to spike the coffee. Fair warning.

  • Jonathan B. Horen

    This is one more reason why I haven’t gone to a conference since LISA ’95 — too many “sensitive people” looking for a fight (perhaps more correctly, “looking for someone else to fight on their behalf”).

    In any case, you’re there for the technical content, the vendor displays, the BOFs, and just plain networking. If someone says/does something that offends you, tell ’em to “sod off!” — loudly, so that others in the immediate area can see and hear you.

    @Tim: How’s ’bout we bury “may”, and replace it with “might”?

  • Anonymous

    “It’s another to insist that the panels are 50% women.”

    Yes, rather different. Establishing the necessity for “affirmative action” has have a rather larger burden of proof than the existing geekfeminism anecdotes.

  • Very happy to see this here and glad to know that Oscon is taking this seriously. I hope more events start paying attention to this issue.

  • BRAVO Tim and the O’Reilly Media family for stepping up on this. I feel, however, that the responsibility should not have to lay solely with you guys. As it is a show organizer’s responsibility, so too is it the responsibility of the “community” of attendees to be responsible to and for each other. If anyone witnesses such behavior not only should they bring it up with the proper “authorities” – e.g. the organizers – but I say let’s call out the perpetrators publicly and hold them accountable for their behavior.

  • Kathy sierra

    @anonymous — a 50/50 gender split for speakers makes no sense when the software development world (open source or otherwise) is far from 50/50. However, the organizers of many tech conferences (including O’Reilly) have been working to try to have the speaker line-up come closer to reflecting those who work in the industry. Different issue (kind of).

    I welcome the “don’t be creepy” language quite a lot, though I am a little concerned by the language about “sexual” images and comments in slides. By that standard, pretty sure my own past OSCON keynote would have failed the test.

    The discussion needs to include whether ALL references to anything sexual, sex, sexy, etc. are indeed a problem vs. those that are demeaning, degrading, sexist, hostile, R-rated explicit, etc.

    We are in an industry that creates tools for humans, and a ban on ANYTHING sexual restricts the discussion. I think we all know the lines that should not be crossed, but when the policy says “nothing sexual”, we don’t get to be anywhere near that line. Swearing is also offensive to many groups, and I am pretty certain that if the goal is to truly be “welcoming and respectful to ALL”, this is a problem.

    Steven Spielberg used a phrase for products that are inoffensive to NOBODY… “neutered”. I realize that word itself might be a problem for some, but his point (in relation to a game I was working on that someone wanted to be more “locally sensitive”) was that we needed to accept that we might offend *someone* but that we had made a decision that the only way to avoid that would compromise the essence of the game itself.

    I really hope that the statement/policy/code includes language about harassment, creepy, etc. but to deem anything “sexual” as “inappropriate” takes it too far, in my opinion. As a presenter. And a female in this industry. And one who is no stranger to the damage from harassment.

    Can the language say “sexist” instead of sexual? Or maybe say “nothing R-rated” in slides? Of COURSE people will try to push the edges. We are IN a domain that exists ONLY because so many of these folks *were* willing to push edges.. If they go too far, they get booted and take the consequences. If an attendee harasses someone, THAT is a far different, far worse offense than someone showing an image in a slide that might involve something sexual.

  • @Sarah Sharp: I’m not familiar with that phrase, and Google didn’t list any sexual-sounding definitions. To me at least, it simply appears to mean “I got my start at OSCSON.” As in, the person wearing the shirt went to OSCON at some point in the past, networked with other people, and perhaps got hired into a position that led them to where they are today. The message being that OSCON is good place for networking.

    Maybe I’m just misunderstanding the sentence or missing context like images on the shirt (or even the font, colors, etc), but it doesn’t sound “sexualized” at all. My only guess is that you’re interpreting the sentence as “I had sex (planted the seeds for a kid) at OSCON.” Is that it? It’s possible that wording was ambiguous and therefore misunderstood.

    Disclaimer: I’ve never been to OSCON or, for that matter, any tech conference other than SXSW Interactive. I found this post via LWN in my RSS feeds.

  • Anonymous

    As a female engineer I have to say, I have no idea what this is about. I have never had any issue at any conference, period. Maybe the girls with the issue should try taking a stand. Put your foot down firmly and clearly (but maturely) with people who disrespect you, don’t do business with vendors who offend you and let them know why. You might be surprised to find that standing up for yourself, instead of expecting others to protect you, actually works.

    Maybe if we all stopped segregating ourselves and drawing attention to the fact that, “omg we’re girls and we work with technology but out for sexual harassment!”, we might just find that we are already equal.

  • Philip Tait

    @Cathy: Well said. We shouldn’t be relying on the “government” to fix things for us all of the time.

  • The Contrarian

    Violating anyone’s personal space once they have told you to stop is always wrong. But I’m sad you’ve been bullied into this, Tim.

    There are plenty of other situations where harassment occurs. For example, I found the strident self-righteousness of some of the voices who bullied you offensive and intimidating, not least because they smack down anyone who dares question their view and are not sensitive to the discomfort they are causing those around them – ironic but true.

    Ultimately it’s a matter of maturity and humanity, and it most definitely is not the conference organiser’s responsibility to restore civility to the ill-mannered or socially inept, nor to pander to the anger of the inexperienced, nor to create an environment that’s by default hostile to an easily stereotyped section of attendees in deference to the stridency of another section.

    You have created a company whose behavior is unusual and exemplary in its inclusiveness of a diverse staff and its care for a diverse audience, in all shades of diversity. If there is any company that does not need to pander to the “this should be against the rules” panics of minority agendas it’s yours.

    I’d like to hear more members of that diverse audience telling each other “shut up” and “grow up” and “stop being creepy” and “I hope you’ll stop that so we can stay friends” and appreciating the nurturing environment you’ve already created.

    And no, despite being one of your frequent conference speakers I don’t want to sign with my real name because I am too intimidated and already know how I’ll be treated if I’m identified.

  • […] accounts of female attendees having to put up with stalking, offensive comments, and unwanted sexual advances

    Unfortunately that’s not conference specific, many women have to put up with this every day of their lives. The title of this really should be “Sexual Harassment: A Big No-No” and it’s sad we still need it in 2011.

  • Bengt

    Well, I sure am glad you take sexual harassment seriously and that it’s a big “NO-NO”.

    But is that to say all other forms of abuse are petty and non-special? Like you know, non-sexual harassment?

  • Steve

    This kind of nonsense is why heterosexuality makes me sick. I wish all the stupid straights would just get over it. Silly battle of the sexes nonsense. Really, if some guy put up photos of hot twinks on a conference slide, I’d be pleased. And if they put up pictures of women instead, not my thing, but whatever, doesn’t bother me. If a guy propositions me, if I like him, I’m pleased; if he’s not my type, it’s not a problem. Actually, the biggest problem for me is women who just won’t take “I’m gay” for an answer, but you won’t see me whining about it the way so many women do when they are getting unwanted attention.

  • @The Contrarian –

    The reasons you outline are exactly why I didn’t adopt one of the various existing “codes of conduct” that were suggested to me. They read in such a way that would make a lot of other people uncomfortable.

    So I tried to write a simple statement that addressed actual issues that have been reported to me, rather than a general finger-wagging.

    I’ve also stated that the language of this post will be the basis for the language of an anti-harassment statement at OSCON and other O’Reilly conferences. We won’t be adopting anything that looks like it was written by a lawyer or an HR department.

    If there are other issues that need to be addressed (e.g. LGBT harassment), I’ll add them based on accounts of actual incidents that have occurred at our events, not on some general sense that they need to be prohibited. I always find it better to get people to aspire to excellence rather than to try to prohibit some list of faults.

    As Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher said,

    “Losing the way of life, men rely first on their fitness;
    Losing fitness, they turn to kindness;
    Losing kindness, they turn to justness;
    Losing justness, they turn to convention.
    Conventions are fealty and honesty gone to waste”

    I always summarize this more briefly as

    “Losing the way of life, men rely on goodness;
    Losing goodness, they rely on laws.”

    I don’t want a long canon of dos and don’ts. But I have heard enough of actual accounts (and lots more in the comments here) to know that something needed to be said. So I addressed the issues that I had heard about.

  • @Michael Kohl –

    There are many evils in society. But I find that being specific and localized helps. This post is meant to address behavior in a context where my statement may mean something, and actually cause change.

  • @Anonymous female engineer –

    I totally agree that women need to stand up for themselves in these circumstances, but so do their male friends.

    I don’t doubt that some of the lobbyists for a code of conduct are trying to avoid having to deal with the issue directly, but I also think that they are just looking for some overall guidance from conference organizers to remind attendees of the limits of appropriate behavior. Some people just don’t seem to get how they come across.

    That being said, there’s a real danger in the “code of conduct” people running amok too, pushing rules against things that aren’t actually occurring, or overstating the case and making people uncomfortable about things that are really OK (e.g. in the realm of free speech.)

    The incidents you refer to are more in that category – e.g. telling an exhibitor that you disapprove of their approach to marketing, or a fellow attendee that their jokes make you uncomfortable. The two examples I gave, of speakers with inappropriate content, or actual inappropriate behavior towards an individual, are harder to deal with in that way.

  • Christine

    So the LGBT community has to wait to be harrassed or insulted or slurred, document the offense and bring it to your attention, Tim, before they warrant a mention in the code of conduct? Well, thanks for your “courage” on this point. It is no doubt an inspiration to the booth-babe-loving status quo that you *might not* invite someone back after they have offended people.

    How ironic that you of all people aren’t willing to comment your code.

  • AC

    The only problem was with a delusional group of male-hating women – that equates *any* sort of normal social interaction with males as “sexual harassment.”

    They are insane, and you are fools to not ignore them. The only people being harassed here are the normal people – who clearly are no longer welcome at your events.

  • @AC –

    I will certainly agree that the initial contacts from the various people trying to get me to make a statement were counter-productive, because they didn’t report any actual incidents (it was like pulling teeth to get details) but instead were arguing for a solution to a problem they weren’t willing to disclose. But when I did hear details of the actual incidents, I came to the conclusion that there was far more to it than you say, and decided I need to make a statement. Trust me, there has been some inappropriate behavior by some attendees.

    But they are few and far between, as are people such as you describe, who are at the other extreme.

    Everyone involved needs to take a deep breath, and try to think well of each other, rather than imagining the worst.

  • Mike

    I agree with Mike Pirnat that the Code Smash statement looks like a good one.

  • Jim bob

    I come looking for huge boobs and hot women!,,

  • Bash

    I took a quick look at the geekfeminism timeline and frankly I’m surprised at what I read; seems like there is more education required in the community about what behaviour is acceptable and what is not, and so I fully support your proposals – hope it progresses to a general educational campaign.

    We should be at the forefront of making sure that no-one feels excluded especially as many of us have felt this ourselves in the past (when being a geek was not such a great thing to be); maybe we have grown thick skins, but it doesn’t mean that we should allow the younger members of our community suffer as we had. Times are changing, and we should too.

    Also, please ban booth babes!

  • Shameless Troll

    I’d think you’d have a better chance getting laid at a Dungeons and Dragons convention than a tech conference anyway.

  • Laura

    This is great to see. Thanks!

  • I think the point is: why put rules into codes of conduct of some conferences, when these rules are already coded into the law? Secual harassment is already forbidden. Codes of conduct will neither change nor enforce that.

  • Regarding the people saying that they are disappointed that there is not a specific call out for LGBT language in the policy, down this path lies the all too accurate scenes from “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”. Don’t go there.

    I am a member of the LGBT cohort. I feel no need to announce that when I attend any O’Reilly or other technical event, and I feel a little odd mentioning it here, because I consider it something private and not at all relevant when I’m at a conference. I mention it here, just to head off anyone accusing me that my stance is because they think I am thoughtlessly straight.

    All the policy needs to forbid is harassment and being “That Guy”. People who loudly announce that they will boycott if their own pet issue is not coddled exactly in the manner they demand, bring nothing but strife outweighing their technical or social value.

    Thank you for saying something about this issue, Tim. And at the same time, thank you for not saying more than needs to be said.

    Regular attendance at O’Reilly events is one of the more awesome aspects of my career. And I type this while in the lounge at OSCON 2011 Portland.

  • Anonymous

    @Amy: There’s plenty wrong with telling someone “that you think they’re hot/awesome”. These are technical conferences, not singles bars.

    Tim, this is certainly a great first step, but in addition to language around LGBT attendees, please also remember those of different sizes. Sizeist comments and jokes are all too common and are no more acceptable than any other kind of harassment.

  • Katy Rose

    I hope that you will see the link between collective efforts to change a culture of harassment of women at tech conferences, and therefore improve the working conditions of women in the tech sector, and the collective efforts of hotel workers, particularly immigrant women who work in housekeeping jobs, to resist abuse and build power to improve their working conditions.

    One of the central strategies available to women workers in these hotels is to urge conferences to honor the boycotts that the workers have called for. Unfortunately, while O’Reilly Media has responded positively to Ada Initiative’s urgings on the issue of harassment, it has ignored the repeated requests of workers, clergy, and the progressive social justice community to relocate its conferences from boycotted Hyatt hotels.

    Social justice should extend to the hotel workers upon whom the success of O’Reilly’s conferences depend.

  • @Christine – Mark Atwood said what I was about to say.

  • @AC –

    I will certainly agree that the initial contacts from the various people trying to get me to make a statement were counter-productive, because they didn’t report any actual incidents (it was like pulling teeth to get details) but instead were arguing for a solution to a problem they weren’t willing to disclose. But when I did hear details of the actual incidents, I came to the conclusion that there was far more to it than you say, and decided I need to make a statement. Trust me, there has been some inappropriate behavior by some attendees.

    But they are few and far between, as are people such as you describe, who are at the other extreme.

    Everyone involved needs to take a deep breath, and try to think well of each other, rather than imagining the worst.

  • Bob

    Why is this so gender focused? I’m a guy and I’ve been stalked by women. (Yes, plural, although not at the same time.) So how about saying “Don’t be that guy or gal?”

  • @Bob

    I also have been stalked (by women), and have occasionally had creepy inappropriate things said to me (by women). My lesson learned from that is being uncomfortable by being the recipient of unwanted social behavior is just part of the human condition. It’s part of life, and dealing with it is part of living.

    But I think that the phrasing “Dont be that guy” covers female stalkers, creeps, and being inappropriate, just as well as it covers male ones.

    It covers being inappropriately aggressive, it covers unwanted touching, it covers “fag jokes”, it covers being sizist, agist, ablest, and bigoted. Trying to make the phrasing longer and more singe slice of issue at a time covering, just makes it stupid, and doesn’t solve any actual problems.

    You know that guy? Don’t be that guy.

    Don’t be the person that makes everyone else uncomfortable.

  • let me be clear: I am all for efforts like Kundra’s to democratize access to vital government data, like health care data. Whenever I’m asked about the overall state of open data/open government under Obama, I cite the cutting edge work of Todd Park at HHS, along with the less well-known efforts at many govt agencies to share more information in up-to-date ways.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad to see you recognise the possibility of two sides to a story.

    I was once accused of stalking and sexual harassment in a work context, (the offices of the contract agency through which we both worked), by a woman I do not remember ever having met more than once. (It’s possible we had both attended a party given by the agency, in which case I might have attempted to make conversation.)

    She rang me at home the following day, swore at me, and uttered threats of violence. It was really quite alarming.

    Fortunately, the agency knew me very well, and already had some evidence of of her imagination.

  • @Anonymous – there’s no question that harassment can go both ways. And there’s no question that there are often two sides to a story. That being said, it helps to make a statement about what is and is not acceptable, because it helps raise awareness that there is an issue, which many people are in denial about.

  • Mike

    Here is the Code of Conduct for WordCamp San Francisco:

  • Raucus Princemore

    What a stupid post, obviously for a conference attended by badly mannered, smelly, intellectually conceited software misfits. That’s why they write software in lonely dark corners. No one wants to be around this pathetic crowd. There is only one rule needed. The golden rule. All this other BS about special interest group considerations is slippery slope nonsense.

    You can never improve the human condition as long as humans are involved. Even more apt for the software people.

  • This has been a very serious issue and it is a disrespect to oreilly. I hope you guyz manage to make it more comfortable for people specially females to participate in such conferences.

  • Kim Rees


    This is welcome.

    I just now realized, at 40, that the male-dominated atmosphere is the entire reason I avoid most tech conferences. When I started my career I was full of sass, spit, and vinegar. I was attractive and wasn’t afraid to speak up or even talk like a sailor to let the guys know how I felt about booth babes and other forms of sexual harassment (men, if you don’t get this, think of it as going to a gun show knowing that you will never own a gun or be able to fire one while all those around you can). The tech world, particularly at the lower echelons, and conferences that cater to them, are unfriendly towards women to say the least (as well as LGBT). I recall even yelling at some poor shill at the first Java conference because they only gave out t-shirts in men’s sizes. A small issue, but indicative of the assumption that all techies are male and should remain as such.

    At any rate, I stopped going to conferences because of this. It just wasn’t worth the hassle. Now that I’m older, I’m enjoying the far more civilized conferences that cater to executives.

    Thanks for reminding me that the fight continues. I hope someday this can be resolved.

  • George

    Interesting fact no one seems to ever mention, looking at the O’Reilly conference team website, 13 of the 15 O’Reilly conference team employees are women, over 85%.

    Is there some reverse discrimination going on there? Why aren’t there more men planning and executing a conference that who’s primary attendee is in fact, male?

    And if these problems with sexual harassment of women by men are so severe at O’Reilly events to be discussed, shouldn’t a conference team dominated by women be more on top of it?

  • Based on our research, women are also sexually motivated, sometimes even more than men. Sexual harassment should be considered as two sides of the story, taking into account that most O’Reilly events are dominated by women.

  • Keith

    Having read the article and skimmed the comments I must say I am disappointed. The statement you (Tim O’Reilly) made was weak. If we hear that you are that guy, we will investigate, and you may be asked to leave.

    In my less than humble opinion, the correct conclusion to the statement is “Youwill be asked to leave.”

    There are thousands of explanations and excuses and minimizations for bad behavior. “I just whispered to my friend that she was a slut, no one really heard it.” “Pencil dick is just an observation, not a put down.” “Someone wearing a pocket protector is just asking for their butt to be grabbed.” “I didn’t know he/she would be offended.” “I really didn’t mean it.” etc.

    The truth is that harassment is harassment and no excuse or explanation will make it better. Experienced harassers know how to sincerely apologize and look innocent so they can continue their activities. If someone is “innocently” harassing another person, they can learn their actions have consequences and not do it again. But you have to ask where this behavior comes from and why someone would act that way. In other words, no matter how “innocent” a person may be, harassing behavior does not spontaneously appear.

    So bad behavior should be responded to by removing the offender. After they have been removed, you can feel free to spend your time away from the conference trying to understand them and help them understand why their behavior was offensive.

    Will be removed sends a clear message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated. “May be removed” says “Our official policy does not accept harassment, but *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge* you can talk your way out of any trouble.”

    I wish you good luck formulation your future policies.