Training video for code of conduct first responders

Our new code of conduct training video teaches people how to be the first person to respond to code of conduct violations at a conference or in your community. It covers:

  • How to prepare to take reports
  • What to do when someone comes to you with a report
  • How to intervene in an on-going situation if necessary
  • Consent to report, drinking, powerful people, legal concerns, etc.

If you want to learn more about responding to code of conduct violations, you can download our free ebook, or learn more about our customized code of conduct training and consultation.

Slides (PDF) (transcript)
Report-taking checklist (PDF)

When should tech companies refuse to serve hate groups?

Every few months, a tech company faces backlash over providing services to a hate group of some kind. Usually they explain their decision as a commitment to promoting free speech and a fair and open society.

But in reality, that tech company SHOULD turn down those clients, precisely BECAUSE it values free speech and a fair and open society. The Paradox of Tolerance explains why supporting some kinds of speech actually harms society, and the Intolerable Speech Rule (below) gives a step-by-step guide to choosing which clients to serve, using the Paradox of Tolerance as a guide.

The Paradox of Tolerance

The Paradox of Tolerance says that a tolerant society should be intolerant of one thing: intolerance itself. This is because if a tolerant society allows intolerant ideas and groups to take over, it will destroy the tolerant part of the society and there will be no tolerance left anywhere. Some examples of this kind of intolerance include a white supremacist news site, a forum that harasses queer people out of their homes, or a public figure who encourages sexual harassment and assault.

What the Paradox of Tolerance means for tech companies committed to free speech is that they should not serve clients that advocate against a tolerant society. But many people are unsure about where to draw a specific line. For example, what if someone claims that their religious beliefs require them to discriminate against queer people? What’s more important, tolerating the religious belief or tolerating someone’s sexual or gender identity? To make these kinds of decisions easier, I created the Intolerable Speech Rule.

The Intolerable Speech Rule

Here is a detailed rule for tech companies to use in deciding which content to host or clients to support.

If the content or the client is:

  1. Advocating for the removal of human rights
  2. From people based on an aspect of their identity
  3. In the context of systemic oppression primarily harming that group
  4. In a way that overall increases the danger to that group

Then don’t allow them to use your products or services.

This isn’t the only rule you should use – you should use this rule in addition to all your existing rules against spam, fraud, illegal activity, etc. and seek legal advice on how to best implement this. What’s important to remember is that many tech companies already refuse to host many kinds of speech, including hate speech, and improve their business by doing so.

As for the question about whether you should tolerate someone discriminating against queer people because of their religious beliefs, the answer is no. The short version is that a religious belief is an opinion, not an aspect of identity, and it does not give someone the right to remove human rights from another person for who they are (in this case, queer). To learn more, read about Religious Beliefs and the Paradox of Tolerance.

Video and additional resources

Video of our talk on the Intolerable Speech Rule

Slides (PDF) (transcript)

Cory Doctorow expands on the Intolerable Speech Rule

Article on the Paradox of Tolerance as it applies to white supremacists in the U.S.

Wikipedia entry for the Paradox of Tolerance

Featured image CC BY Travis Wise, edited by FSC

Want better boundary setting? Train managers first

“My employees have trouble saying no or setting boundaries with their managers. Can you train my employees to be better at boundary setting?”

I can – but it’s usually a waste of your time and money. If an employee expects a negative reaction from their manager, they probably won’t set boundaries no matter how much training they get.

What would work better? Teaching managers how to make it safer for their reports to set boundaries, and then investing in training employees.

Here’s how I teach executives and managers to encourage their employees to set boundaries:

1. Explain why boundary setting helps managers: managers get more information sooner, are better at predicting when work will be done, and can better avoid burning out their employees.

2. Name and explain sources of power differentials, such as position in a hierarchy, race, or gender. Share specific real-world examples.

3. Describe common responses to people with less power setting boundaries for people with more power: anger, pressure, ignoring the boundary, retaliation of many kinds.

4. Discuss how past negative experiences and current power differentials can make it harder for employees to set boundaries.

5. Explore several techniques managers can use to make boundary setting easier for their employees, using specific real-world situations and small group discussions.

Here are three examples of ways managers can make boundary setting easier:

1. Create situations where people can set boundaries in unimportant situations and respond positively when they do so.

2. Describe in advance what your (positive) response will be if they set a boundary, and follow through if they do it.

3. Give people ways to send productive but unpleasant feedback anonymously and respond positively when they do so (fix problem, publicly thank, reward everyone).

Once your managers are making it safer to set boundaries, you can invest in training your employees to set boundaries without wasting your organization’s time and money.

To schedule a talk on boundary setting or learn more about boundary setting training, email

Featured image CC BY Diane Gregg, edited by FSC

Why “assume good intent” backfires

“Assume good intent.” If this is in a code of conduct or a list of company values, that organization is in for a lot of trouble soon! That’s what I’ve learned through experience as a code of conduct and DEI consultant.

TL;DR: Telling people to “assume good intent” focuses on intentions rather than effects, helps bad actors waste other people’s time, and creates more pointless arguments. “Assume good intent” even makes diversity and inclusion worse instead of better! Keep reading to learn why.

People with good intent

First, let’s talk about “assume good intent” when everyone involved DOES have good intent.

Imagine a person with good intentions who does something that turns out to be harmful. Another person tells them that their action had a bad effect. What happens next?

In an ideal world, the person who accidentally harmed people would apologize, promise to do better, and make amends. But in the real world, they often say, “But I mean well, and you are breaking the rule about assuming good intent!”

What is happening here? People often think others are breaking the rule of “assume good intent” by focusing on the harmful results instead of their intent. (Do people feel the same way when they are on the receiving end of unintentional harm? Usually not, in my experience!)

The end result is that “assume good intent” makes it harder to point out when people are unintentionally harming others and fix the problem, even when everyone has good intentions.

People with bad intent

Now let’s talk about when someone actually does have bad intent!

Imagine a person with bad intent in your organization who hears about the new rule of “assume good intent.” Occasionally, they decide that they don’t want to be in an organization full of people assuming good intent and will leave.

But if they don’t want to leave, they can take advantage of the new rule. If they do something harmful on purpose and another person points it out, all they have to do is say, “Oh, but I meant well.”

Then they do another harmful thing. “Oopsie, I thought you would like that!” They do it again, and again. Eventually someone says, “Hey, I think this person has bad intentions!” Cue an argument over “assume good intent.”

Which person is breaking the rules? Not the person with bad intent! And since intent is something that is inside someone’s head, it is extremely hard to prove that someone meant to do harm. This causes useless strife and wasted energy.

Suspicious people

Finally, let’s talk about the situation most people have in mind when they say “assume good intent”: Someone with good intent who wrongly assumes other people have bad intent so often that it harms productivity.

Imagine a suspicious person learning about the new rule that everyone must “assume good intent.” What’s the most likely reaction, deciding they will start trusting other people? Or wrongly assuming other people are breaking the new rule?

Assume good intent harms DEI

Finally, why does “assume good intent” harm diversity and inclusion? Marginalized people are the people most likely to be harmed—and the least likely to be believed when they complain about being harmed. “Assume good intent” puts an extra barrier in the way.

If you want a better code of conduct or set of company values, Frame Shift Consulting can help. Read our free book on codes of conduct or learn more about our DEI consulting and training.

Featured image: CC BY-SA 3.0 Christian Kadluba, edited by FSC

Normal is not coming back

This isn’t sustainable.

Many of us are stumbling through our work days, spacing meetings and missing deadlines. You might be thinking, “I can keep going for a few more months, until things get back to normal.”

It’s time to accept it: “Normal” is not coming back.

What would we do differently if we accepted this new reality? Here are some ideas for tech company employees and other salaried knowledge workers.

Announce company-wide stress leave after traumatic events so people can cope with the event.  Most of us are just pretending to work after these events anyway, so why not make it official? Make a plan so that everyone can take their stress leave within a week of the event.

If you can, set up an email autoresponder explaining that you are taking time to process and recover from the latest event. If you are not directly affected, consider including what actions you are taking in solidarity with those most affected.

Switch to a 32-hour, four-day work week and enjoy “increases in productivity, higher talent attraction and retention, deeper customer engagement, and improved employee health.”

Cancel meetings at the slightest excuse. No agenda? Cancel it. Too few things on the agenda? Cancel it. Can this be an email? Cancel it.

Reduce meetings. Tie meeting time reduction into performance evaluations. Set goals for meeting time and measure progress. Reduce the number of people attending each meeting. Reduce meeting length.

Re-evaluate projects and processes. What are you doing solely out of tradition? What is taking up the most resources for the least return? What is throwing good money after bad? Get rid of it.

Talk to trusted coworkers about the struggles you are all facing. Find common ground and come up with ways to improve your working conditions.

In your personal life, look for ways to build mutual aid networks with friends, loved ones, and neighbors. How can you prepare to support each other through ever increasing disturbances?

Can you take turns cooking, doing childcare, taking each other to medical appointments? If one of you is unable to work for a week or month, could your mutual aid group keep them fed and housed and safe?

The old normal is never coming back, and the new normal will keep getting worse for quite some time. Now is the time to plan how to support each other through it.

Religious Beliefs and the Paradox of Tolerance

Someone tells you, “My religious beliefs say that homosexuality and abortion are wrong. When you tell me I can’t express those beliefs in this organization, you are excluding me on the basis of my religion.”

What do you do?

I can’t give you legal or HR advice, but I can give you an ethical solution to this problem: The Paradox of Tolerance.

The Paradox of Tolerance says that we should tolerate someone’s beliefs—up to the point that they take away rights from other people.

“Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

What does this mean if you want to be inclusive of people of all genders and sexualities, as well as differing religious beliefs?

Someone may believe that they, personally, should not be homosexual. That can be tolerated.

But if someone starts telling other people that they should not be homosexual, that cannot be tolerated because it removes other people’s rights to express their sexual identity.

Or, someone may believe that they, personally, should not have an abortion. That can be tolerated.

But if someone starts telling other people that they should not get abortions, that cannot be tolerated because it removes other people’s rights to control their own bodies.

Ethically speaking, tolerance for beliefs—whether religious, political, or ethical—ends when those beliefs take away rights from someone other than the believer.

This is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact your legal counsel.

Featured image CC BY-SA May S. Young, edited by FSC

Tips for safer Zoom meetings

As many classes and social activities are shifting to online video, harassers are “Zoom-bombing” video calls with pornography and other obnoxious disruptions. Here is a short guide to making your Zoom meetings safer.

Before the meeting, the host (the person creating the meeting) should change these Zoom settings (click here to change):

  1. Turn on “Waiting room” feature. (Update: will be on by default starting April 5, 2020.)
  2. Turn off “Allow removed participants to rejoin”, “Allow private chat”, “File transfer”, “Annotation”, “Whiteboard” features.
  3. Set “Screen sharing” to “Host only”.

When scheduling a meeting, the host should:

  1. Create a meeting in Zoom with a random ID and a password (do not use Personal Meeting ID). (Update: meeting password will be on by default starting April 5, 2020.)
  2. Recommended: Do not share the Zoom meeting link publicly, instead make people register with an email address (e.g. using Eventbrite) and email them the Zoom link and password.

During the meeting:

  1. Host assigns “Co-host” status to a trusted person.
  2. The Co-host admits people from the waiting room, removes harassers, and does not admit suspicious people who try to join. (They also mute people who forget to mute themselves after speaking.)
  3. Host transfers host status to people who need to share their screen.
  4. Optional: Lock the meeting after 5 minutes.

If you do all these things, you will have a Zoom meeting with a defensible boundary that you can eject people from if they behave badly. It’s the virtual equivalent of a well-run conference with registration, name tags, physical security, and code of conduct enforcement.

Online training

If you find these tips useful, you may also be interested in our online training, Teaching Inclusive and Engaging Online Classes. We also teach the Ally Skills Workshop online, which helps people learn how to use their power and influence to make their workplace better.


Change Zoom settings:

Co-host information:

Waiting room, remove participants, lock meeting:

Header image CC BY Lisa ZinsCC BY-SA Bill Abbottmarneejill, Frame Shift Consulting LLC

Teaching inclusive and engaging online classes

Want to teach online classes that students look forward to? Wondering how to translate your in-person teaching skills to online teaching skills? Join professional online teacher Valerie Aurora as she shares how she keeps students engaged and learning in an inclusive and welcoming environment. Register for this free class on the following dates:

Tuesday April 7 at 9am – 11am Pacific Daylight Time

Friday April 10 at 9am – 11am Pacific Daylight Time

Wednesday April 22 at 3pm – 5pm Pacific Daylight Time

Here’s what one student said about Valerie’s Ally Skills Workshop:

Loved the format, it was super interactive and didn’t feel like a drag, 3 hours just flew by.”

Topics in this class will include:

  • Best practices for diversity, equity, and inclusion in online meetings
  • Building in student participation from the beginning
  • Adapting body language to online presentation
  • Using breakout rooms for group discussion
  • Lighting, background, and microphone set up
  • Using anonymous surveys to improve your class
  • Technical tips for online meeting software

This class will feature ample Q & A time throughout. We also encourage participants to share their own tips for teaching online with the rest of the class.

About the instructor

Valerie Aurora is founder and lead trainer at Frame Shift Consulting, specializing in teaching ally skills to tech companies. She has 8 years of professional training experience, 3 years of online training experiences, and regularly teaches classes from 1 to 6 hours long both online and in person.

Header image CC BY Lisa Zins, CC BY-SA Bill Abbott, marneejill, Frame Shift Consulting LLC

Free code of conduct enforcement book available now

Book cover with background image of seagulls on a beach

You can now download a free book detailing how to enforce a code of conduct, “How to Respond to Code of Conduct Reports,” written by Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner and edited by Annalee Flower Horne. This comprehensive guide includes:

  • Basic code of conduct theory
  • How to prepare to enforce a code of conduct
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to respond to a report
  • In-depth discussion of relevant topics
  • Dozens of real-world examples of responding to reports

Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner were the lead authors of the Ada Initiative anti­-harassment policy, which is the basis of thousands of codes of conduct in use today. Valerie has more than 7 years of professional experience writing and implementing codes of conduct for software-related companies, venture capital firms, and non-profits. For more information on code of conduct training and consulting, click here.

The book is available under the CC BY-SA license, allowing free reuse and modification of the materials as long as you credit the authors.

Download here (Kindle, EPUB, PDF)

Please spread the word, by blogging, tweeting, or emailing it to community managers and conference organizers. Thank you!

The Intolerable Speech Rule: the Paradox of Tolerance for tech companies

A woman dressed in 19th century European black clothing sits in a defiant pose with a sword across her lap. Letters at the top say in Latin
Use the sword on behalf of justice only

On Monday, I’ll be giving a talk at Airbnb about the Paradox of Tolerance and how tech companies can use it to decide whether or not to allow white supremacists to use their products. Here’s the TL;DW version:

The Paradox of Tolerance says that a tolerant society should be intolerant of one thing: intolerance itself. This is because if a tolerant society allows intolerance to take over, it will destroy the tolerant society and there will be no tolerance left anywhere. What this means for tech companies is that they should not support intolerant speech when it endangers the existence of tolerant society itself.

I propose the following rule for tech companies to use in deciding which content to host or clients to support.

The Intolerable Speech Rule

If the content or the client is:

  1. Advocating for the removal of human rights
  2. From people based on an aspect of their identity
  3. In the context of systemic oppression primarily harming that group
  4. In a way that overall increases the danger to that group

Then don’t allow them to use your products.

This isn’t the only rule you should use – you should use this rule in addition to all your existing rules against spam, fraud, illegal activity, etc. Implementation is key. Be proactive in seeking out violations, have a diverse empowered decision making team, and collaborate with outside experts.

Update: Cory Doctorow wrote an article about this talk, including a longer exploration of issues around the implementation of the Intolerable Speech Rule at scale.

Slides (PDF) (transcript)


Examples of tech companies implementing the Paradox of Tolerance

Tech company terms of service relating to the Paradox of Tolerance

Article on the Paradox of Tolerance as it applies to white supremacists in the U.S.

Wikipedia entry for the Paradox of Tolerance

Talk on legal talismans (misuse of “free speech” and similar legal terms) by Kendra Albert (transcript)

Policy and code of conduct consulting from ReadySet and Y-Vonne Hutchinson

Freeze peach pendant by Gretchen Koch

Freeze peach graphic by Stephanie Zvan