Reading04: Codes of Conduct, and why it’s hard to talk about diversity

Reading04: Codes of Conduct, and why it’s hard to talk about diversity

Codes of Conduct can be and often are helpful – they can define the expectations for a community or organization, and lay out what happens when someone misbehaves, and what recourse victims may have. However, they can certainly stray too far in their scope and enforcement, and at that point they become a problem.

Codes of Conduct, when properly used, should protect the members and employees of whatever organization they are set forth by. They should provide resources for one to use if they are being harassed, avenues to report behavior issues, etc.

One of the readings for this week was an anonymous post reacting negatively to a CoC that is originally from the group Geek Feminism, but through links of influence and, in many cases, simple inclusion in other services impacts those of Twitter, Box, Yahoo, Facebook, and GitHub (at the time of its writing).

The concerns he raises are convincing, and to me seem valid and well-thought-out. In situations like this, I would say that the Code of Conduct has gone too far. It has become vague and far-reaching, to the extent that members of the community have to worry about it to the extent that it impacts their regular routines.

The cited Code of Conduct goes too far, and ceases to be a protection to the members of the community. Instead, it seems more focused on protecting the company, to the detriment of its community. Under it, the company could take action against people for what were not ill-intentioned or malicious actions.

In short, Codes of Conduct can be very beneficial, and can provide essential resources for members of the community. They are best served to protect members of the community from other members. Codes of Conduct become less positive when they instead serve to protect the company as a whole from its members – at this point they have overstepped their bounds, and should be cut back to some extent.

As a sidenote: this week, I chose the “easier” or “safer” prompt – writing about Code of Conducts rather than the issues of the gender gap and diversity/discrimination in the workplace. To be honest, this was in large-ish part because I’m not certain I can, in 500 words, express my feelings on the issue in a way that I think I can staunchly stand behind (as this blog is public and tied to my name). I’d much rather discuss it in class.

In short, though, (because this hesitance could be taken as “I think women don’t belong in CS, just don’t want to say it publicly”, so I feel I should at least mention my thoughts on the matter) I think that there are unquestionably areas that the industry needs to improve to be more welcoming to people who aren’t white males. It’s just that 50% might not be the equilibrium point, if all those who want to do CS are enabled to, and so that division shouldn’t be held up as the gold standard. We’re still far from having to worry about swinging too far in that direction, though.

This reluctance to make a statement on such a tenuous issue is at least slightly reminiscent of the Google memo controversy. Only slightly – I hardly stand to be fired from a job (I don’t think Notre Dame would expel me over a well-meaning but bumbling expression on a random blog) – but there is that hesitance to express myself publicly, even if it is a good-faith effort. I think James Damore was trying to raise awareness for what he genuinely believed to be an issue that he thought people should be more aware of. There are certainly parts of his memo that I disagree with, but the fact that he was fired does raise those same questions that he was asking – is Google (and to a greater extent, the tech industry), becoming an echo chamber? How can we raise questions about these things without facing backlash? He circulated this memo internally – did he do wrong, and should he have been fired for it? (I understand that Google more or less had to because of the public outcry, but that doesn’t mean it was the right thing to happen.)

At the end of the day, these are hard issues to discuss because they have been moralized. When it becomes a held belief about right and wrong rather than ideas on how best to address a problem, it becomes much more difficult to hold rational discussions between differing viewpoints.