Denise McInerney Blog

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PASS Code of Conduct, continued

A few days ago I blogged  about what I've been doing as a PASS Board member, including drafting a Code of Conduct for the PASS Summit. Following that post there was a good discussion on Twitter about some of the details of implementing this type of policy. I wanted to go into a bit more detail here on how implementation can work.

There's a tendency to look at this type of document as a set of rules or a clearly defined list of prohibited actions. The problem with that approach is that we can't anticipate every possible behavior that could lead to a complaint, so the list could never be exhaustive. Any attempt to be specific leads to a problem when implementing the policy: if someone engages in a type of harassment that is not specifically listed, did they violate the Code of Conduct?

When researching similar policies from other organizations the best examples I found were clear about the intent without being a laundry list of specific prohibitions.  Here are a few examples:
O'Reilly conferences

Microsoft MVP

Ohio LinuxFest


Is some of the language of our draft Code of Conduct open to interpretation? Yes, absolutely. There is no way to avoid that. Judgment will need to be applied when evaluating a complaint and deciding if any action should be taken.

But we can provide the Code of Conduct Committee with a framework for their activities. An accompaniment to the Code will be a document that outlines the process to follow when an incident is reported. This process document will also provide some examples of the type of incidents that could lead to removal from the Summit. That document has also been presented to the Board. The most recent version can be found below.

My goal in seeing PASS adopt a Code of Conduct is to ensure every SQL Server professional feels welcome and can participate fully in the Summit.  Having this discussion and working through the challenges is part of PASS growing and maturing as an organization.


Here is the language of the Code of Conduct I have submitted to the Board for consideration:

PASS Code of Conduct

The PASS Summit provides database professionals from a variety of backgrounds with an opportunity to connect, share and learn.  We value the strong sense of community that characterizes this event and we seek to foster an inclusive, professional atmosphere.

We are dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, religion or any other protected classification. 

Everyone at the Summit is expected to follow the Code of Conduct. This includes but is not limited to: PASS Staff, Exhibitors, Speakers, Attendees and anyone affiliated with the event. Participants are expected to follow the Code of Conduct at all Summit events, including PASS-sponsored social events.

Participant behavior

Harassment includes, but is not limited to, offensive verbal comments related to gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, religion, or any other protected classification.  Intimidation, threats, stalking, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact and unwelcome attention will also be considered harassment. Similarly, sexual, racist, derogatory, threatening or other inappropriate language and imagery are not appropriate for any conference venue, including sessions. 


If a participant engages in any conduct that is prohibited under this Code of Conduct, the conference organizers may take any action they deem appropriate, including warning the offender or expelling the offender from the conference. No refunds will be granted to attendees expelled from the Summit due to violations of the Code of Conduct.

If you are being harassed, witness harassment, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff immediately. Conference staff can be identified by their “Headquarters/Staff” shirts and are trained to handle the situation appropriately.

A Code of Conduct Committee (CCC) made up of the Executive Manager and three members of the Board of Directors designated by the President will be authorized to take action in response to an incident or behavior that violates the Code of Conduct.

Here is the language of the Code of Conduct Process I have submitted to the Board for consideration:

Code of Conduct Process

All Summit conference staff and members of the PASS Board of Directors are responsible for knowing and upholding the code of conduct. A Code of Conduct Committee (CCC) made up of the Executive Manager and three members of the Board of Directors designated by the President will be authorized to take action in response to an incident or behavior that violates the code of conduct.

Conference participants may report violations of the Code of Conduct to any member of the conference staff. If the reported violation involves physical harm, threats or any other serious offense, the conference staff member should immediately contact a member of CCC. For other reported violations, the staff member should write down a summary to be provided to the CCC as soon as possible. In the event there are any questions or doubts about whether a violation of this Code of Conduct has occurred, the staff member should refer the matter as soon as possible to the CCC.
The summary should include,  as much detail as possible, including:
• The name of the person making the report
• The name of the person who was being harassed
• The name of the person that is in violation of the code of conduct
• The circumstances of the incident, including the identity of any witnesses
• Contact information, especially mobile phone number, for the person making the report
When taking a report from someone experiencing harassment the staffer should, with the reporters knowledge and consent, record what they say and reassure them they are being taken seriously; however, the staff member should avoid making any specific promises about what actions the organizers will take.  Similarly, while any investigation will be conducted as discreetly as possible, the staff member should not make any promises that the investigation will remain confidential.

 If the reporter desires it, arrange for an escort by conference staff or a trusted person, contact a friend, and/or contact local law enforcement. Do not pressure the reporter to take any action if they do not want to do it. Respect the reporter's privacy by not sharing unnecessary details with others, especially individuals who were not involved with the situation or non-staff members.

After being notified of a reported violation the CCC will convene as soon as possible. The CCC will make a reasonable effort to speak to all the principals involved in the alleged incident prior to taking any action. Meetings with the principals should be held separately. The CCC may also choose to speak to others who have information about the reported violation before taking action.

A participant may be expelled by the decision of the CCC for whatever reasons they deem sufficient. However, here are some general, non-exhaustive, examples for when a participant should be expelled:
• A second  offense resulting in a warning from the CCC
• Continuing to harass after any "No" or "Stop" instruction
• A pattern of harassing behavior, with or without warnings
• A single serious offense (e.g., incidents of a physical nature including punching or groping someone)
• A single obviously intentional offense (e.g., taking up-skirt photos)
• Any threats of violence or physical harm

Hotel or venue security and local authorities should be contacted when appropriate. Members of the CCC and conference staff should have contact information for each of these entities readily available.

Conference staff should not make any public statements about the behavior of individual people during, or after the conference.

A member of the CCC will be designated to provide a written summary of any action taken by the CCC to the Board of Directors. This should include a summary of the reason for the CCC’s action and any relevant documentation, such as the original complaint or report. Any action taken by the CCC will be reviewed by the Board. The CCC reports and any subsequent decisions will be archived by the Governance coordinator.

Legacy Comments

Kevin Boles
re: PASS Code of Conduct, continued
As a person who is intimately familiar with the Code of Conduct topic, I think you have done a pretty good job here. It is extremely difficult to come up with a CofC that is effective but not completely open-ended and too-loosely worded. I still think this version is a tad so, but that is a very subjective statement. I kinda question the focus on the term "harrassment" in the wording though. Someone dropping the f-bomb in every other sentence could be distracting and offensive enough to be considered a CofC matter, but I am not sure that classifies as harrassment, especially since you have lots of specific "types" of harrassment listed (although you do state that violations are not limited to those types).

I do like that you have PUBLICLY posted your PROCESS for dealing with reported potential violations. I also think it is good that there is some judgement placed in the CCC's hands which is incredibly important since something that person A finds "harrassing" may not be to others or the "public at large".



Karen Lopez
re: PASS Code of Conduct, continued
I'm happy to see that PASS is considering a policy on this important topic.

One of the point here that concerns me is that the CCC would be made up of PASS Board members and staff. I would think that we would want to see this committee have community members, too. I'd love to see members have experience in related subjects like mediation, dealing with sensitive subjects, complaints or enforcement processes. I'm just brainstorming here, but I'm thinking teachers, lay counsellors, law enforcement, human resource staff, coaches, etc. Not necessarily professionals, but people who have had some training or experience in similar processes. Not as a requirement, but definitely as a group they should have these skills.

So while there could be Board members with these skills, that wouldn't necessarily be true for all Boards going forward.

I think this would also help relieve any perceived conflict of interest by having the CCC be separate from the Board, but still reporting to them.

I would also like to see this code apply to other situations than just the PASS Summit. It seems odd to me that we might have a separate Code for each event.

If you are interested in other feedback, you know where to reach me.