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Creating and Learning from Our WistiaFest Code of Conduct

In June of this year, we held our third annual WistiaFest. Attendees came from all over the world for three days of talks, workshops, and social events like boat cruises, Red Sox games, and parties at our Cambridge office. It was an absolute blast.

But like all events with human beings in attendance, there was always the potential for behavior to go south at WistiaFest.

That was where our code of conduct came in. We spent significant time—this year, in particular—on our code, so we thought we'd walk you through why we put so much effort into it, what we ended up with, and what we learned for not just next year's 'Fest, but all of our future events.

Why we need codes

So, why have a code of conduct? Aren't we just telling people not to be jerks? I mean, come on, we're all adults here.

It can't be assumed that people will behave respectfully, or that everyone even has the same definition of what is respectful or appropriate. We didn't want the fear of a negative interaction to deter people from joining us for WistiaFest. Those fears can be more prevalent among women and minorities who may have experienced harassment at tech events. We needed to make it clear that our event was a safe space for all attendees, so they felt welcome to attend.

"We didn't want the fear of a negative interaction to deter people from joining us for WistiaFest."

A code of conduct is a statement of our dedication to creating and protecting a safe and inclusive space for all. It is a sign to anyone who may feel uncomfortable that we will take actions necessary to protect this space. In order to be effective, a code of conduct should:

  • Clearly state what behavior is expected
  • Outline a path of action to take if those expectations are not met

If done right, a code can encourage a larger number and wider range of people to attend your events. It should make all attendees more aware of their behavior and its impact on others.

By communicating that you take your code of conduct seriously, you're sending a strong message that you won't tolerate harassment.

How we came up with our code

Luckily, we weren't the first ones in the industry to want a code of conduct, so there was no need to reinvent the wheel.

We wanted our code to, above all, be clear and be human. It needed a certain amount of formal vernacular in order to set clear, authoritative boundaries. But, it also needed a human voice to avoid sounding like obligatory fine print.

The human voice also helped remind us all about the purpose of having a code – each other's well-being. Our favorite element of our code is the "Golden Rules" format. The three Golden Rules are:

  • Be kind.
  • Be friendly, inclusive, and professional.
  • Take care of others.

Each of these rules also included dos and don'ts to further define these otherwise subjective and so wonderfully human rules. After creating a draft, we reached out to Diverstia—a working group of Wistia employees who want to promote inclusion and diversity at Wistia—for feedback.

In hindsight, we realized we could have allowed for a bit for time for feedback to make sure that everyone had a chance for input!

Members of Diverstia jumped into the Google doc to contribute questions, suggestions, and discussion about the content, the phrasing, and the process for dealing with incidents. Once the window for feedback closed, we reworked the code with the new insights.

How we made our code visible

Once our code had been written, reviewed, and refined, there was the challenge of communicating it to potential attendees and speakers. 'Communicating' couldn't just mean getting our words in front of eyes; we needed to get every human in and around our event to collaborate on creating and protecting a safe and inclusive space. In order to accomplish this goal, the content length, medium, and visual design of the code itself needed to adjusted for each context.

"We needed to get every human in and around our event to collaborate on creating and protecting a safe and inclusive space."

We decided upon 3 different environments where we could present our code of conduct.

  1. The website, for people to encounter when they were purchasing tickets
  2. The attendee and speaker pamphlet, for people to encounter when they were arriving at the event
  3. Sprinkled throughout the event, for people to encounter during conversation

The website

Whether attendees came from a tweet, a link elsewhere on the Wistia site, or a Google search, the WistiaFest site was the destination for anyone looking for information on the event. It needed to be clear that the code of conduct did not just exist as a checked box for the event, but as a defining characteristic of the way it would be run. For this reason, the code was mentioned both on the homepage and the tickets page, tied in with links to purchase tickets. It also could be found as its own link in the footer.

Room for improvement: We placed the code below the purchase buttons for tickets. Someone could potentially have clicked the button to purchase without ever scrolling down far enough to see the mention of the code of conduct. In an ideal world, the code would exist within the purchase form, so that attendees would have to click "I have read the WistiaFest 2016 code of conduct and agree to abide by it for the duration of the event (and just in life, because really that's how the world should be)."

The printed materials

Every attendee, sponsor, Wistia employee and speaker—so, every human in attendance—received a printed pamphlet in a lanyard that included a name tag and schedule.

On the back of each name tag, we printed an abbreviated, contextualized version of the code. Because of this version's proximity to the person's identity, we replaced the title of "Code of Conduct" with "You make the 'Fest, so let's make it great!"

The intent was to shift the framing of a code of conduct from a set of rules to a reminder that the responsibility was on each individual to collectively create the safe space we imagined.

Within the pamphlet, we also included the names, photos, and email addresses of a group of Wistia volunteers we called the Wellbeing Team, appointed to address any concerns throughout the event.

Room for improvement: While the code had prominent placement on the back of the name tag (facing in toward the wearer), it was only revealed if someone removed the pamphlet from the pouch. Since everyone was going to remove their pamphlet to read through the schedule, this was an intentional decision. But if we placed it differently, the code could have been the first thing people saw when they donned the lanyard.

Also (slight tangent from the code itself), we could have added a space to indicate your preferred pronoun on the name tag as a little cue of openness to any and all.

Throughout the event

When we kicked off this year's 'Fest, we guided attendees through the pamphlet, and reminded them about the Wellbeing Team and our code.

Once the event was in full swing, we wanted to have some reminders sprinkled in the environment itself, too. We created little one-line typographic posters highlighting each "Golden Rule" we featured in our code. This was our most concise version, intended to serve only as reminders once the full versions had already been previously read on the site or name tag.

"Once the event was in full swing, we wanted to have some reminders sprinkled in the environment itself, too. "

These posters were propped up on tables where attendees were breaking for coffee and chatting in between sessions.

Room for improvement:These could have also existed at our social events, not just at the conference center. The reminders are even more relevant in that setting, and not bringing them over was simply an oversight on our part.

Future events

Our biggest takeaway from this whole process was that a code of conduct isn't only relevant for conferences, your biggest event, or a party – a code is relevant anytime you are bringing humans together.

We also confirmed that having a present, thoughtfully-constructed code was very well-received. Some love from attendees and even job applicants gave us warm fuzzies and reminded us why having a code is so important – it's meaningful to the people we're including.

We will be implementing this code before all of our events moving forward, and we'd suggest you do the same! If we communicate to potential attendees that we prioritize creating a safe and inclusive space for all, and effectively encourage attendance from a wider range of people of different backgrounds, we just might start to move the needle on diversity in tech.

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