Thursday, July 13, 2017

Do your company's meetings and offsites need a code of conduct?

In the recently released "Holder report" recommendations prepared by Covington & Burling for Uber about its corporate culture and needed changes, there was buried a recommendation that women speakers should know about: Codes of conduct should apply to both in-house meetings and offsite meetings.

Why companies like Uber get away with bad behavior puts a finger on this recommendation:
[The report] also said that workplace rules governing sexual harassment and other prohibited behavior should extend to offsite conferences and meetings. “It should not be necessary to draft separate policies for these events,” it added dryly.
You'll find that in section VIII., item A, under "EEO Policies" in the Holder memo linked above. And they're right: You shouldn't need a code of conduct for offsite vs. on-site meetings of your organization. But women in any workplace might want to check on a few policies of their employers just now.

Why? Because codes of conduct help women speakers to speak in a setting that is free of harrassment, one of the more aggressive ways of silencing women. And I'm betting you don't know what your company or organization requires, if anything, of meeting participants, so you should find out. Codes of conduct are often a focus when we talk about attending conferences, but you'll have many more meetings that take place under your own organization's auspices, so why not have codes of conduct articulated there, too? Questions you might want to ask include:
  • Do we have a code of conduct for our organization in general? Is it clear that the code applies to any meeting in which our employees and visitors are participating? If not, why not?
  • Do we have a code of conduct for our meetings, including those with visitors? For our offsite meetings? If not, why not?
  • Have there been complaints of harrassment at any of our meetings, onsite or offsite, internal or with visitors?
  • If we have policies, what are we actively doing to make employees, managers, and visitors aware of them?
My post Does your conference have a harrassment code of conduct? I wish mine did shares a sample code from SecondConf, and there are plenty of examples online if you need a model.

You might get some pushback or questions about why you're raising this issue just now, and Uber has given you the perfect cover to do so. "I've been reading about all the issues at Uber, and I want to make sure none of that ever happens here. The attorneys who did the review made specific mention of company meetings and offsites as situations that should have a code of conduct, so I wondered whether we had one, too," is all you need to say. That'll get their attention. And if you want to be sure there's a record of your request, follow up your conversation with an email, and keep a copy.

What happens if your request is ignored? That's what happened when I complained to my longtime conference about harrassment. Instead of addressing the problem, they consulted an attorney. The following year, attendees were required to tick a box when registering, promising not to sue the organization. That told me all I needed to know, and I stopped attending. You can take your skills elsewhere, too, or you can make that part of a further complaint. It's called "voting with your feet," and many have suggested riders do the same with Uber to make their disapproval known.

We often wonder whether we can make a change in an area as big and amorphous as this one. But if every reader of this blog asked her human resources office about this policy, you'd start seeing change. Feel free to forward this blog post if you like. And if every reader of this blog attending meetings hosted by other organizations--not just formal conferences--asked, "What is your code of conduct for meetings?" you'd find eventual change there, too. Let's use Uber's very public misconduct as a lever to make meetings more hospitable for women speakers, shall we?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Lucas Maystre)

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