Fostering Diversity in Tech with an Online Community Policy

by Julie Arsenault November 14, 2014 | 4 min read

PagerDuty has a social media policy. Here’s how we developed it, and why.

Shortcut to our Community Policy: /community-policy/

At PagerDuty, we’re committed to promoting diversity in technology and fostering innovation from all people, regardless of what might make them unique or different. Creating a culture that truly promotes diversity takes thoughtful work and requires that we reflect on how small things that we do or say can be perceived by others. Unconscious biases (video here) are always at play. Simple things like the snacks and beverages you offer at office events can have unintended perceptions and consequences.

There is a decent amount of awareness around how we can create the right culture in physical spaces like the office workplace and professional conferences. But what about social media? The amount of harassment on social media is surprising and discouraging. We view social media conversations the same way we view person-to-person conversations in the office: inappropriate or harassing comments have no place in our physical spaces, and we don’t want to see them in our online spaces either.

Unfortunately, we had a surprise recently when we posted Twitter ads with pictures showcasing PagerDuty t-shirts. We received a few comments that, we felt, didn’t support the kind of culture we’re trying to create.

When we noticed these comments – the reaction was universal – this was not OK, and we had to do something about it. Everyone here, from the leaders of the company down, wanted to take action. And so the idea of developing an explicit online community policy was born.

We researched what other companies are doing, and were surprised to find a lack of information about how others handle social media harassment. It’s common for organizers of tech conferences to lay out anti-harassment guidelines for attendees; and, of course, most workplaces have internal anti-harassment rules. But there weren’t many examples of companies doing the same for social media.

What we finally based ours on was a template provided by the Geek Feminism wiki. Our policy says that we don’t tolerate harassment, regardless of an individual’s identity or affiliations, and that if we notice such behavior or if a member of our community reports a problem, we can take any action to address it up to and including expulsion. The policy applies to any online space PagerDuty provides, from Twitter and Facebook to our Community Forums.

It may not seem like much. After all, it’s only 160 words on a webpage. But we believe that clearly stating our position on social media harassment and putting a process in place to respond to it will help us reduce and prevent it over time. For one, it’s a tangible way of promoting the culture we want to create. For another, we can now point to clear guidelines and a list of possible consequences if an incident should occur.

So far, we haven’t needed to do anything as drastic as block or expel someone. It only took a couple of days to develop the policy and post it. Once it was up, we approached the people who’d made the problematic Twitter comments — by email, so it didn’t become a public discussion — and asked them to take their comments down. Most of them were surprised, not realizing they’d said anything offensive (which is common — most instances of harassment aren’t intentional). A couple of them pushed back, but we simply thanked them for their feedback and reiterated the request to remove their comments. We’ve had to call on the policy a few times since then as well, but so far straightforward requests have done the trick.

Our hope is to find ways to make the policy more visible to our followers and community members. But in the meantime, it’s giving us the tool we needed to create the kind of community spaces we want.

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