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.
- Artificial Life and European Conference on Artificial Life – in 2014, the International Society for Artificial Life adopted an anti-harassment policy for all of its conferences. Props in particular to ECAL 2015, for integrating it nicely into their website.
- Ecological Society of America – ESA recently published a policy on their website that will apply to all ESA conferences, following this Twitter conversation.
- Entomological Society of America – Blanket policy issued by the society for all conferences (not obviously linked to, though).
- International Particle Accelerator Conference (2014 – present) – it’s unclear whether there’s a larger governing body that adopted this policy, but it looks consistent between years.
- North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics – Has a blanket policy for all of their conferences.
- Australian Institute of Physics Conference, 2014 – The Australian Institute of Physics doesn’t seem to have a blanket policy, and I couldn’t find websites for any of their other conferences, so I’m not sure how general of a trend this is.
- MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference – Blanket policy for entire conference series (although it wasn’t easy to find on the website)
- Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy – Applies to all events that take place at the center
- SIG-GRAPH – Its location 2 levels down on the website made it a little challenging to find, but to be fair the website is quite large.
- International Conference on Generative Programming: Concepts & Experience – Links to the ACM harassment policy as its primary policy, but also links to the Geek Feminism wiki, and provides contact information for a support person.
- SIGPLAN Conference on Programming Language Design and Implementation – Also links to ACM harassment policy, without supplemental links. In general, the wording seems weaker, but at least it’s there and prominently placed on the website
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!