I do not believe that Codes of Conduct are necessary for a productive work environment (as the Linux kernel community has shown). I also do not believe that it is absolutely necessary in order for an organization to foster a welcoming environment. I think that this can very much be the result of good leadership within the organization. However, I do not believe that every organization is able to foster a welcoming community for its employees without a Code of Conduct. Therefore, I do think that Codes of Conduct serve very valid purposes.
I think that Jesse Noller describes what a Code of Conduct is and what their purpose is very well. He makes the argument that a Code of Conduct should never dictate who you must be or what you can do. These things would certainly limit creativity and create a restrictive environment. Rather, these codes are meant to “dictate where, given unlimited freedom, your ‘right to do whatever you want’ ends”. Jesse Noller then points out two very important benefits of having a strong Code of Conduct.
The first benefit is that it provides expectations and procedures for those who follow or choose to violate the codes. These explicit expectations are beneficial because it very clearly states what is not permitted in the work environment. Then, offenders also know exactly what to expect if they so choose to violate the codes laid out before them. These procedures are also useful for others in the organization to have clear steps to follow in the event that they may witness a violation of the Code of Conduct. If they are uncertain what to do, they can always fall back on the procedure provided in the Code of Conduct for the steps to take.
A perfect example that shows the harm that can come from a Code of Conduct without clear expectations and procedures is the article written by Sarah Sharp. Sarah ended up leaving the Linux kernel organization because of their poor work environment. In her article she says “I feel powerless in a community that had a “Code of Conflict” without a specific list of behaviors to avoid and a community with no teeth to enforce it”. A strong code of conduct could have helped to create a healthier work environment by holding those violators accountable for their actions.
The second benefit is that a Code of Conduct shows those both in and outside of the organization that the organization cares about them. It is possible that people may be hesitant to join an organization because they have been mistreated or abused in the past. But a Code of Conduct is an organization’s way of telling those individuals that this kind of behavior is not tolerated in their workplace.
It is possible that Sarah Sharp may look for another open source project to work on after leaving the Linux kernel project. If she chooses to do so, I bet that she will end up selecting a project that has a strong Code of Conduct. She will likely do so because the Code of Conduct is in many ways a promise to her that what happened in the Linux kernel project will not be tolerated in their organization.
After reviewing a few different Codes of Conduct, I decided that the Open Code of Conduct is an extremely reasonable outline to follow. I appreciate how it begins by outlining the goals that every company likely aspires to hold true. While some people may argue that stating that a company strives to “be friendly and patient” or “be considerate” is silly and unnecessary, I fully support listing these goals out. Even if as a member of the organization you only read through these goals once, it is a nice reminder to keep these things in mind as you go about your daily work and communication. I think that the Open Code of Conduct also does a good job in listing out what it defines harassment to be. This is where a lot of controversy lies sometimes. Shawn M’s article argues that many Codes of Conduct rely too much on the listener and how they perceive the words of the speaker. However in the definitions section of the Open Code of Conduct, it clearly defines exactly what is considered to be harassment.
I was also very unimpressed with the Linux kernel project’s Code of Conflict. Just as Sarah Sharp describes in her article, the Linux kernel’s Code of Conflict offers no accountability or procedures to be followed in the event of harassment. Unfortunately, this sort of code will let harassment pass without any sort of expectation of repercussions. Reading this Code of Conduct, I can understand how Sarah Sharp might feel helpless in how others are treated in the workplace that follows this code.
As for the Douglas Crockford situation, I am not certain that I can say whether or not his removal from the Nodevember conference was justified. I watched the video of his “slut shaming” comment and read the transcript, and honestly did not quite understand how his words or actions were interpreted as slut shaming. If anything, it seems like a misunderstanding of what “promiscuity” means when spoken in the context of computer networks. However, if he has used other foul language and has indeed made others feel unwelcome at conferences then I would certainly support his removal from conferences.