At Wistia back in 2018, we shared a three-year diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) vision with our team, which consisted of efforts divided across three key pillars of work: Building the Team, Working Together, and Social Impact.
We wanted to ensure recruiting and hiring processes were inclusive and fair, growth opportunities were equitably distributed and recognized throughout the organization, and diverse perspectives were sought out and welcome. We also wanted to have systems of accountability to ensure all Wistians were able to bring their authentic selves to work and be valued fully for their contributions.
To support these efforts, we set out to create a new code of conduct alongside the creation of our own DEI Task Force. We believed rolling out a code of conduct in conjuction with training was an area we had room to invest in to build systems of accountability that ensure Wistia feels like a good place for everyone to come to work.
And so, we sought advice from experts and folks who’ve created clear and culturally-aligned codes of conduct for their companies to learn what we should consider including in our very own. In this post, we’ll share what we learned about creating a code of conduct at Wistia from the experts with whom we spoke and the resources that helped us along the way. Keep reading to find out more!
If you’re unfamiliar with what a code of conduct is, it is essentially a statement of a company’s shared values. It lays out the expectations you have for your community and establishes a standard of behavior that ensures folks can bring their full selves to work.
For historically-excluded groups, or any group of people that has been historically excluded from full rights, privileges, and opportunities in a society or organization, a code of conduct can help ensure that their workplace strives to eliminate microaggressions and understands the importance of making people feel psychologically safe as well as a sense of belonging among their peers.
As we spoke with experts, we learned a ton about what to consider when crafting Wistia’s code of conduct. Here are our biggest takeaways.
Codes of conduct can take many different forms across different companies. Oftentimes, human resource professionals will work hand-in-hand with employment attorneys who can provide a legal lens to craft a code of conduct and policies that are a good fit for an organization. HR Attorney Liz Monnin-Browder told us that most employment attorneys have a bunch of templates for organizations to customize, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all code of conduct.
To establish a code of conduct that supports your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work, your company’s DEI work should first be woven into your company culture. Your company’s policies and code of conduct are only pieces of the puzzle for the work you do around DEI. These supplemental pieces will help establish a foundation for loyalty and respect in your organization because they show that you value consistency and fairness.
Once you have your code of conduct in writing, that shouldn’t be the end of your work. According to Liz, a document that reflects the values of your organization is, ideally, rolled out in conjunction with training.
Training is a chance to discuss your company culture and have important conversations about things such as:
- What do we expect from each other?
- What do we do in the workplace if we see something that violates our policies?
- How do we intervene and be an effective bystander, an effective advocate, and take ownership and pride over company culture?
At the end of the day, the way people experience their workplace culture is built and maintained day in and day out by how people treat each other. Having training in conjunction with your code of conduct gives people the tools and permission to ensure that their company feels like a good place for everyone to come to work. For us at Wistia, this is an area we have room to invest in.
So, where exactly do you start with drafting your code of conduct? Amy Scannell, VP of HR Consulting Services at One Digital, answered all of our questions about getting started.
According to Amy, the most important thing you should do is to make sure your code of conduct starts from an authentic place with leadership.
“We can draft all the fancy words in the world that sound politically correct, but unless senior leadership is going to defend, support, and walk the walk, frankly, it’s going to cause more harm than good. So I would say you need to understand where ownership and leadership wants to be, and what their beliefs are, and how deep they want to go.”Amy Scannell
VP of HR Consulting Services, One Digital
Amy also suggests that you keep your code of conduct simple and highlight the most important things to your organization. It can be hard to support, substantiate, and monitor heavy overarching themes, so simplicity leaves room for change.
Here are some important questions to consider while drafting your code of conduct:
- Why do we believe these things?
- Where are we coming from?
- What do we want to do?
- How do we continue to amend as necessary?
- How do we make it a part of who we are every day?
When it comes to making changes to your code of conduct, Amy suggests telling folks you’ll evaluate the code of conduct semiannually. In her opinion, looking at your code of conduct quarterly seems like too much, and annually seems like not enough.
A great way to find out how your code of conduct is resonating with people is to hold a focus group and ask questions like:
- What do you think of this?
- You weren’t involved in the writing or rollout of the code of conduct, but we’re curious to know what it means to you?
- Do you feel that the code of conduct gives you a structure that you can work comfortably in?
- Do you feel that it’s missing anything?
Then, you can take their thoughts and feedback under advisement.
Grabbing inspiration for your code of conduct from other companies is also something you should feel encouraged to do. It can be helpful to see what other companies are doing, peel back what feels authentic to you, and build off of that in a way that feels right for your brand.
At Wistia, we found a comprehensive, progressive, and DE&I-oriented code of conduct by Vox Media, which was a huge influencer in the direction we wanted to go with our own. In the past, we’ve also looked at companies like HelpScout and Buffer for inspiration on other policies.
You don’t have to start from absolute scratch. Don’t be afraid to turn to Google to find other companies out there who are thinking about their code of conduct or have created one before.
One of the lenses of our DEI Vision at Wistia at Wistia focuses on how we go about working together, which involves building systems of accountability to ensure that all Wistians are able to bring their authentic selves to work and be valued fully for their contributions.
We created our code of conduct to be clear about our expectations of one another and to outline how we expect to approach things when there are missteps. We believe that laying out the path to those conversations — and being clear about how we expect people to respond to feedback — should help us become a more inclusive space and improve how we work together. Here’s a glimpse of what we included in our code of conduct:
- Listen actively and openly. We all have perspectives we are eager to share, but it’s important to listen at least as much as we speak. Let people complete their thoughts. Pay attention to the dynamics in meetings and group settings — especially to who is getting to speak or not. We want to be mindful not to repeat patterns of silencing or crowding out voices that are repeatedly underrepresented or unheard, and instead seek to amplify them. Engage in discussions with curiosity, and work to understand what may have led someone to a different conclusion than you.
- Collaborate and share frequently. Involve your colleagues and key stakeholders in relevant brainstorms, discussions, and decisions. Seek out perspectives that help deliver the best solution to a problem and the most value to the customer experiencing it. Proactively share in-flight work with the team. To move efficiently, many decisions need to be made by a small group of people, but it’s important to pull the right people proactively and avoid silos or back-channel decisions that exclude critical voices.
- Include remote teammates. Everyone on our team is remote at least some of the time. Adopt habits that are inclusive and productive for teammates wherever they are, such as making liberal use of live video and audio, documenting meetings and decisions, and being mindful of time zones when scheduling events.
- Provide helpful feedback. Feedback is an essential part of our culture. Before critiquing, though, consider your colleagues’ experiences and how that may inform their perspective. Good feedback is respectful, clear, and constructive. Ideally, it’s delivered privately and directly and as soon as possible. Share feedback when you see someone exhibiting behavior that is either at odds with our code of conduct or upholding it in an admirable or unique way.
- Receive feedback with grace and humility. We all make mistakes. Getting feedback when you make a mistake is an investment in your growth. If a colleague provides feedback that your actions (intentionally or not) negatively impacted them or made them feel unwelcome, recognize that it is a gift and took a great deal of courage for them to share that with you. Work to understand their experience, acknowledge and apologize for mistakes made, and embody and apply feedback to future interactions.
- Lead with humanity. Be respectful in all forms of communication, but especially remote communication, where there’s a greater chance for misunderstanding. Use sarcasm carefully and shoot for communicating clearly and directly. Finally, use live video and in-real-life meetings when it makes sense; face-to-face discussion benefits from all kinds of social cues that may go missing in other forms of communication.
- Descrimination and harassment. Harassment includes, but is not limited to, intimidation; stalking; unwanted recording or photography (e.g., if you are asked to stop recording or sharing content by an individual and do not stop); inappropriate physical contact; use of sexual or discriminatory imagery, comments, or jokes; intentional or repeated misgendering; sexist, racist, ableist, or otherwise discriminatory or derogatory language; and unwelcome sexual attention.
- Exclusionary language and behavior. Regardless of intent, microaggressions (subtle put-downs which may be unconsciously delivered) frequently have a significant negative impact on groups or individuals. Microaggressions don’t have a place at Wistia. The same goes for tone policing, or responding negatively to the emotion behind a person’s message while ignoring its content (e.g., “you’re overreacting” or “calm down”) and for pedantic corrections (e.g., “well, actually”) or explaining things to colleagues in an unproductive or patronizing manner.
- Unwillingness to meaningfully engage with feedback. At Wistia, we expect everyone to be mindful of the feedback they receive when they’re approached about a negative experience (or repetitive experiences). People feel more comfortable bringing their full selves to a workplace where everyone recognizes and validates the impact their own actions have on their colleagues. Peers unwilling to engage with feedback put an undue burden on those seeking equity and inhibit the learning needed to foster a more inclusive space.
- Address it directly. If you’re comfortable bringing up the incident with the person who instigated it, reach out to them to discuss how it affected you. If you’re unsure how to go about this, discuss it with your manager or with the People team first — they might have advice about how to have a helpful and healthy conversation. If you’re unable to have a direct conversation, there are alternate routes you can take.
- Talk to your manager. Your manager probably knows about the dynamics of your team, which positions them well to give advice. They may also be able to talk directly to the colleague in question if you’re uncomfortable doing so yourself. Your manager can also help ensure that any conflict with a colleague doesn’t interfere with your work.
- Talk to a member of the People team. People team members are happy to talk to you in person or remotely about the problem and help figure out what steps to take. Members of the People team are good at listening to all concerns, from small violations to ones that require more drastic action. In all cases, the People team will work to stay in clear communication with anyone who reports a problem while maintaining confidentiality whenever possible. Depending on the severity and urgency of an issue, the member of the People team you’ve spoken to may need to escalate a report to include managers, others on the People team, or others on our leadership team. Where this is necessary, you’ll be kept in the loop about the progress of your report.
Many folks were involved in the creation or editing of Wistia’s Code of Conduct, including those on our DEI task force and others who helped with feedback, editing, and refinement.
Our code of conduct is not a finished document. We know we’ll learn things and find ways to improve it as we go along. We’re excited to share it (and some other really great resources below) with our entire team so we could start down the path of learning and improving!
- A Better Workplace - Codes of Conduct: We talked to many people as we were figuring out how to approach our code of conduct. Listen to some of those conversations and how the invaluable advice offered to us helped shape our work.
- VOX Code of Conduct: Vox’s approach and language was a huge influence in framing and building our own.
- Guide to Allyship: This guide has some great information on how people — particularly those with identity privilege — can be better allies. Embedded in the guide is a great take on how to handle mistakes (Boots and Sandals: How to Handle Mistakes by Presley Pizzo) that inspired parts of this code of conduct.
- How Good Intent Undermines Diversity and Inclusion: This was a thoughtful piece from Annalee Flower Horne about why centering around impact instead of intention is important.