Why Heroku Adopted a Code of Conduct Policy and Sponsored The Ada Initiative

Editor's note: This is a guest post from Rikki Endsley. Rikki Endsley is a technology journalist and the USENIX Association's community manager. In the past, she worked as the associate publisher of Linux Pro Magazine, ADMIN, and Ubuntu User, and as the managing editor of Sys Admin magazine. Find her online at rikkiendsley.com and @rikkiends on Twitter.

A code of conduct is a signal to attendees that conference organizers have carefully considered the issues involved with attending events, and that they want to make their conference welcoming and safe for everyone. Heroku recently adopted an event sponsorship policy that shows that the company recognizes the importance of formal codes of conduct. By announcing its new code of conduct policy, Heroku plans to help cultivate a more inviting and diverse community. Sara Dornsife, Director of Developer Marketing at Heroku, says that before agreeing to sponsor an event, the company will verify that the conference has a code of conduct in place. “If they do not, we will introduce them to the Ada Initiative so that they can get help to adopt one. If they refuse to adopt one, we will not sponsor.”

Events Should Be Fun and Informative

Sara runs the events team at Heroku, which organizes, sponsors, attends, and sends speakers to a range of tech events each year. Recently she worked on developing a code of conduct policy with Heroku colleagues — Shanley Kane, Jacob Kaplan-Moss, Matt Zimmerman, and Dominic Dagradi.

The Heroku team decided to work with the Ada Initiative to develop the new policy. “I have been really impressed with Ada,” Sara says. “They have taken it on themselves to create clear and fair codes of conduct for conferences and to work with organizers to adopt them.”

Matt Zimmerman, Vice President of Engineering at Heroku (and former member of The Ada Initiative board of directors and former advisory board member), says that working on the Heroku code of conduct policy provided an opportunity to connect his personal passion with his work.

Following PyCon's Lead

Jacob Kaplan-Moss, Django web framework co-founder and a core contributor, joined Heroku in May 2013 as the Director of Security. In November 2013, he also joined the Ada Initiative advisory board. Although Jacob's role on the advisory board is new, his support for the Ada Initiative is not. In fact, in August 2013, Jacob called on the Python community to raise $10,000 to help support the non-profit, and he ponied up $5,000 in matching funds. The Python community accepted the challenge and chipped in the initial $5,000 in only 27 hours.

Jacob isn't new to the idea of adopting a code of conduct policy for events, either. Back in August 2011, Jacob announced a new personal code of conduct policy for attending and speaking at tech conferences. “I’m proud that PyCon, the conference I help organize, has adopted and published our own code of conduct.”

According to Jacob, PyCon adopted a code of conduct in 2011. Back then, women made up about 1-2% of attendees, whereas the 2013 event included approximately 20% women. Although the code of conduct policy isn't 100% responsible for the increase in participation by women, Jacob says it's a vital part in making community events safer for all attendees.

With his PyCon experience in mind, Jacob was eager to help Heroku adopt a code of conduct policy. “Heroku supports a lot of developer events,” he says, “And I think as a company, we have similar concerns to those I have as an individual and organizer. We want to be involved with events that attract and support as wide a range of attendees as possible, and we want the events we support to be safe and fun for everyone.” Jacob jumped at the chance to help get Heroku involved in promoting and support codes of conduct as 'table stakes' for a tech conference.

“A code of conduct sends a strong message that inappropriate behavior will be taken seriously, and that victims will be treated with respect. Codes of conduct aren't the end of the things we can — and should — do to help make our communities more welcoming and diverse, but they're an easy, powerful first step in the right direction.”

“Although a code of conduct is quickly becoming table stakes for modern programming conferences, every action, no matter how small, that supports and reinforces equality and accessibility is an important step toward an all-around healthier community,” says Dominic Dagradi, an engineer on the Web Apps team at Heroku.

Helping to Foster Change With The Ada Initiative

Heroku has thrown additional support behind the Ada Initiative efforts by contributing $10,000 and becoming a corporate sponsor. “The great part about sponsorships like Heroku's is that they let us do higher-impact projects that take longer to plan and serve women around the world,” says Valerie Aurora, co-founder and Executive Director of the Ada Initiative. For example, the Ada Initiative plans to host several international AdaCamps in 2014. “At each AdaCamp, we spend a significant part of our budget on travel scholarships to give women that initial leg up in open tech/culture that makes such a difference to whether women stay or drop out,” Valerie says. “However, we always get more excellent applications than we have travel scholarships, and sometimes people can't get the necessary visas even when they get the scholarship.” She says that most AdaCamp sponsors are more likely to sponsor a local conference near where their employees work. “When companies like Heroku sponsor the entire Ada Initiative, it makes it much easier for us to do long-term international outreach like this.”

Contributions like Heroku's corporate sponsorship also help fund the Ada Initiative's on-going work reducing harassment and increasing the diversity of speakers and attendees at conferences. Three years after its founding, The Ada Initiative is making a major impact in open tech/culture companies, Valerie says. “A crucial part of its success is that the Ada Initiative provides support and advice to conference organizers and sponsors one-on-one, through phone calls, emails, and in-person meetings. We answer questions about training staff, give advice on travel scholarship programs, review conference materials to make them more welcoming, and much more. Without this immediate support and advice, many conference organizers would not have made these changes, which is one reason why earlier similar projects using volunteer effort fizzled out. And without sponsorship, we wouldn't be able to provide this kind of professional expert support.”

Heroku supports a range of tech organizations and events, but before asking the company to sponsor your tech conference, make sure you meet their new requirement. “If you are interested in Heroku sponsoring your event, make sure you have a code of conduct in place,” says Sara Dornsife. “If you do not have a code of conduct, the Ada Initiative can help. If you refuse to adopt a code of conduct policy, we will not be sponsoring your event.”

You can find Heroku's Conference and Event Policy and code of conduct here.

Contact Us

If you have a code of conduct in place and want information about Heroku event sponsorships, contact events@heroku.com.

If you need help with creating your event's code of conduct policy, or to contribute to the Ada Initiative, visit: https://adainitiative.org.

Browse the blog archives or subscribe to the full-text feed.