Katie Graham wrote a post on codes of conduct at conferences over on her blog and asked if I had any thoughts on it. I started to reply in a comment on her blog but as sometimes happens, my response started to get lengthy and out of respect, not wanting to occupy more than fair space, I decided it would also make a good fit on this blog and decided to post it here. Most of my readers are in the employment space – organizational leaders, hiring managers, recruiters career or job search coaches, or job seekers themselves. Without doubt, attending conferences are in the picture. So, even though the conference Katie refers to in her post isn’t about employment, a conference is a conference is a conference…
I like Katie’s post, it’s honest and pensive. She talks about how she was in favor of established conduct policies at conferences in the past but recently went to one that has her thinking twice about them – it had a two page policy that was very extensive and included,
Ask for consent before all interpersonal contact,” and “Outside of [speakers' and entertainers'] performance, understand that they may not necessarily wish to pose for photographs, provide an autograph or be interviewed.
It appears her experience balloon was a little deflated out of her concern about behaviors which are normal and socially accepted – at the very least at conferences in western countries.
For those who do not know, there is a bit of Internet conversation going on about the value of codes of conduct drafted for conferences to influence behavior – in an honest attempt to curtail the unacceptable before it happens. Katie was weighing in on it.
Now I’m weighing in on it since she asked.
Social protocol and the law are not a mysteries by the time we reach adulthood for most individuals and that is why – unless there is a particular out of the ordinary protocol requirement, I do not advocate for these types of policies. My opinion is that they are not needed by non-deviants and useless to ensure behavior for those who are. They create extra work, and therefore an additional cost, and are condescending to event participants, most of whom, if not all, would find them bizarre indeed. The rules of the facility and the laws of the city and state are all you really need. As we have all learned time and time again on Dragnet, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Now let me tell you something, Streebeck. There are two things that clearly differentiate the human species from animals. One, we use cutlery. Two, we’re capable of controlling our sexual urges. Now, you might be an exception, but don’t drag me down into your private Hell. – Sgt. Joe Friday
I believe attendee expectations for the event should be clearly evident through the tone set for the event via conference marketing and promotion, to include website, social and traditional media. Conference staff/volunteers should be aware of the facility security policies and if there are any concerns over potential behaviors, I advise organizers to hire private security staff. Any complaint lodged should be met with the appropriate response after an investigation, which could be anything from a conversation to an escort out the door, or call to law enforcement – depending on the gravity of the situation. The safety and security of event participants are paramount. Conference organizers and venue representatives must be prepared to respond to any complaint swiftly with the utmost professionalism.
To take this one step further to the off hours of the event (multi-day, after party, etc.), I have this to repeat..
The rules of the facility and the laws of the city and state are all you really need.
Individuals who have social anxieties and requests for others should make them clearly known at a conference to anyone who approaches them the same way they do in any other social situation. Conferences are not some kind of magical protected venue. There should be no expectation conference organizers should be responsible that no one shake your hand or pat your shoulder, enter your personal space at a networking function, perform normal mating rituals like flirting out in the open or in a quiet space, like occur in any other social situation or venue.
Some additional tips for personal safety:
- Use best judgement and find a conference buddy to walk the dark alleys (or ride elevators) with you.
- Carry mace but be judicious in its use or you could end up in trouble for assault if you err.
- Take a self-defense course to boost self-confidence and acquire important self-care and prevention skills.
- Learn about body language and act and interpret accordingly.
- Be firm and not vague in your words – that doesn’t mean be harsh.
- Be cautious of alcohol consumption, especially in an unfamiliar place.
- Inform hotel staff and request a staff escort to your room if you suspect being followed or overly scrutinized.
We have all been to events that went perfectly well and some have been to events where they had less than optimal experiences. That mirrors life in general – codes of conduct present or not.
If you are an experienced conference goer please let me know your thoughts.