I'm writing this up for the rOpenSci call on Codes of Conduct that I'm
participating in today.
My lab has a lab Code of Conduct.
We adapted it from
https://github.com/confcodeofconduct/confcodeofconduct.com. So the
"how" was easy enough :).
Key points I want to make:
- develop & post a code of conduct whether or not you know of any problems;
- the code of conduct has to set expectations for everyone, including the
- I provide a specific contact person outside the university hierarchy for
complaints about me;
A few notes on why a CoC and what use it's been:
Adoption was not motivated by any one particular incident, although
there have been a few incidents of problematic behavior over the
years. It was more motivated by our adoption of a Code of Conduct for
the khmer software project,
which is one of our major projects, and also by the Software
Carpentry Code of Conduct. (Note that Michael
Crusoe was the originator of the CoC on the khmer project and has been
both a strong proponent and an excellent resource for creating
friendly workspaces.) The 2013 PyCon incidents
helped convince me of CoCs in general. We also attended an excellent
Ada Initiative ally workshop at
PyCon in 2015 that
convinced me of the utility of a CoC for the lab specifically.
Another motivation to adopt a lab code of conduct came from our training
efforts, where it is clear that impostor syndrome rules and it takes quite
a bit of overt friendliness for people to ask questions. Providing
ground rules for interaction helps there tremendously.
I will note that there are a few unfriendly and/or obnoxious people in
bioinformatics, and that at least two of these individuals have
targeted students in my lab or collaborators. Not much to be done
about that, although Twitter's "block" functionality works extremely
well for me, or at least so I assume ;). I won't stand for that sort
of behavior in the lab, though.
A lab code differs from a workshop or community code of conduct in a
few ways. The primary difference I see is at the intersection of
authority and longevity - unlike an online community, there is a
de facto authority (the head of the lab), who within some limits
can make decisions for the lab; this is like a workshop where someone
can be asked to leave by the workshop organizer. But unlike
a workshop, labs exist for a long time, and so there are longer term
relationships to consider.
My goal in adopting a code was to make it clear that everyone could
speak comfortably, without fear of being targeted for who they were or
what they believed. I've come through both very macho and
argumentative labs as well as super friendly and uncritical labs, and
neither seemed right -- I wanted to maintain both the ability to give
and take criticism within the lab together with having a friendly and
productive lab atmosphere. I believe this is important for the
development brainstorming and creativity, as well as simply making the
lab a nice(r) place to be.
There have definitely been benefits in recruiting: having a code (and
following it!) means that people know you are aware of many issues that
all too many faculty seem unaware of... this encourages a more diverse
applicant pool. This may be one reason the lab is fairly diverse in
practice, as well.
A key aspect of our code is that it places expectations on the boss as
well (that's me). Part of this is having someone to complain to
about me; this has only been used once, and it was super important
because I simply hadn't realized what I had said & done, and (long term)
it led to me modifying a particular behavior of mine.
It also enables labbies to take the initiative when something comes
up, which has happened a few times. This doesn't need to involve me;
lab members have felt free to speak up and remind others that what
they are saying is inappropriate or hurtful, in part because they know
that we have set expectations and I will back them up. This seems to
work well, the few times it has been used. (Although I've never had to
back anyone up.)
Fundamentally a code of conduct defines a social contract and sets expectations
for everyone in their basic set of interactions. I've found it to be a
net positive with no downsides so far.
Final note: I have no idea if it's legally enforceable but I don't
actually think that matters that much, as the university channels for
handling harassment are largely useless in practice; this is a social
problem too, not "just" a legal problem.
There are comments.