Scientific Conferences Doing Gender Inclusivity Right – Part 1: Anti-Harassment Policies

Posted June 23, 2015 by Emily Dolson in Information / 1 Comment

We spend a lot of time talking about problems with gender inclusivity at scientific conferences, and rightly so – things are unlikely to change if we don’t call attention to the problems. But it’s also important to recognize conferences that are doing a good job! So, I’d like to take this opportunity to do that. For the sake of this series of posts, I’m just going to focus on gender inclusivity, although obviously inclusivity towards all groups is also important. There are two easily measurable elements of  gender inclusivity: anti-harassment policies and speaker balance (if people have other ideas, I’d love to hear them!). Part one of this blog post series will deal with anti-harassment policies, while part two will deal with speaker balance. A third part may be forthcoming if I get enough ideas for alternative ways of judging this.

Anti-harassment policies are probably the most tangible step a conference can take to make people of all genders feel welcome, particularly in male-dominated fields. The original advocacy around harassment policies occurred in geek communities surrounding open source and sci-fi/fantasy conventions. Now, this movement is in the process of spreading to academic conferences. In general, the sexual harassment at academic conferences tends to be a little more subtle than some of the incidents in other venues. Nevertheless, it happens and it has direct impacts on people’s careers, so these policies are important. So, congratulations to these conferences, which are leading the way! This is unlikely to be a complete list – I compiled it from a combination of conferences I happen to be familiar with, Twitter, and the Scientific and Academic Conferences section of list on the geek feminism wiki.

Note #1: Since these policies only help if people know they exist, I’m only listing conferences here which have obvious enough policies that I could locate them on the conference web-page. For instance, the ACM, which is responsible in whole or in part for a vast number of computer science conferences, technically has a blanket anti-harassment policy for all activities under its jurisdiction. However, many ACM-sponsored conferences make no mention of this policy on their websites and their attendees are unaware of it (I only found it because SIG-GRAPH linked to it). Therefore, as with all other conferences, ACM conferences are only included here if they have a policy posted explicitly on their own website.

Note #2: I’m focusing on academic conferences where research is presented. Anti-harassment policies began their adoption among tech conferences slightly earlier, and so are more prevalent (although by no means ubiquitous) there. So, for the sake of brevity, I am omitting them here.

A few thoughts on these results:

  • To put this list into perspective, out of the 24 or so conferences I thought to check, 6 had obvious policies (and three of them were the ones that originally gave me the idea for this post; EDIT: to clarify, the other six came from the list on the geek feminism wiki). So there’s still some work to be done, but anti-harassment policies seem to be gaining traction.
  • There were surprisingly few clear trends as to which conferences have anti-harassment policies. For every large conference with a policy, there were comparable conferences without one. Similarly, there was no clear effect of field. Of course, this is a small and non-random sample, so standard disclaimers apply.
  • Policies were generally located in one of three locations: directly on/linked from the front page, on or linked from an “about” or “policies” page, or on the website of the organizing society. The latter is by far the hardest to find. On the other hand, the indication that the society as a whole has adopted an anti-harassment policy is positive.

If you want to adopt a policy for your own conference, the geek feminism wiki has a great example, which many of these are drawn from.  As previously mentioned, this was a haphazard search effort at best. So if you know of more conferences with anti-harassment policies, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them to this list!

Emily Dolson

I’m a doctoral student in the Ofria Lab at Michigan State University, the BEACON Center for Evolution in Action, and the departments of Computer Science and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, & Behavior. My interests include studying eco-evolutionary dynamics via digital evolution and using evolutionary computation techniques to interpret time series data. I also have a cross-cutting interest in diversity in both biological and computational systems. In my spare time, I enjoy playing board games and the tin whistle.

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