Introducing the Model Code of Conduct for the Australian Startup Community

Why it’s important to Airtree to adopt a Model Code of Conduct for the Australian Startup Community

At Airtree we’re all driven by the same mission — to help grow Australia’s tech community into a thriving and creative ecosystem. But we also know that to succeed as a community, we need to make sure that everyone is invited along for the journey. We need the participation and inclusion of people of all backgrounds, races, genders, identities, religions and ideologies.

This isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the key to building great companies too. The best startups are almost always outliers — and to be an outlier it’s essential to embrace a diverse range of ideas, perspectives and experiences.

We’re working hard to increase diversity and inclusion across the board at Airtree — at our events, in our portfolio, in our investment funnel and in our own team. We’re working to identify and eliminate unconscious bias from our investment and hiring decisions, and we’re also measuring these efforts to keep us honest. We’re proud to work with an incredible group of founders and team members from a wide range of backgrounds, genders and races — but we still have a lot of work to do (and we’re committed to doing it).

We also think that startups are hard enough as it is. Founders and early employees are already twice as likely to struggle with depression and mental health issues than the general population. Harassment or bullying makes this much, much worse — it can literally destroy lives. We want the community to be able to use this Model Code of Conduct (Code) to help call this sort of behaviour out and eliminate it.

The Code is really just a statement of basic human decency. We hope we’ll soon live in a world where we won’t need to codify it like this, but unfortunately we’re not there yet. Until we are, the Code should provide a clear statement on the sort of behaviours that we will not tolerate, and ensure that we support and welcome everyone into our community.

What follows is a document we’ve worked with on with our friends at Blackbird, Startmate, Rampersand, Square Peg and Blue Sky Venture Capital. This Code is an evolving document, and we’ll continue to work with the ecosystem to improve it over time. We’re excited to be working on this and together we’re committed to building a more diverse, and inclusive community for Startup Aus.

Introducing the Model Code of Conduct for the Australian Startup Community

It is a great moment in time to be a part of Australia’s startup community. There has never been a better time to start a company here. Collectively, we need to ensure that opportunity is wide open to those who seek it, and that the startup community reflects the dynamism and diversity of the wider population.

Today we are launching the first version of a Model Code of Conduct for the Australian Startup Community.

Blackbird Ventures, Startmate, Airtree Ventures, Square Peg Capital, Rampersand and Blue Sky Venture Capital) have been working closely to draft this Code in collaboration with San Francisco-based Diversity & Inclusion expert Valerie Aurora.

As of today, we have all adopted the Code, and invite others in the Australian startup community to do the same.

This is just a starting point. We hope to version it over time and improve on it with the input of others in the community.

Why do we need a Model Code of Conduct?

We know that a code of conduct does not by itself ensure a healthy culture. But we do believe that a code of conduct has a role to play in creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for marginalised groups.

It is useful because it clearly articulates to all members of an organisation or community what standards of behaviour are expected.

Being part of an organisation, event or community is a privilege, giving you access to valuable advice, network and capital. But with that privilege comes a responsibility to behave appropriately to others in the community. We think there is value in specifying exactly what those responsibilities are.

Many people from minority groups have been victims of the behaviour listed in the Code. Seeing it spelled out sends a strong signal that they are welcome and safe in your organisation or community.

We have created the Code because it is essential for organisations to have clear processes something goes wrong, so no one finds themselves out of their depth and without any guidance. When you don’t know what to do, you may do nothing. This is the danger the Code protects against.

Where so much of our professional lives bleed into our personal lives, there is much room for error. We acknowledge that, in the majority of cases, errors of judgement are often matters of degree. We hope this Code encourages all of us to reflect more deeply and maintain a greater sense of awareness for how our actions may impact or be perceived by others.

What this Code says

This Code is designed to apply to a variety of organisations from venture capital funds and accelerators through to startups, co-working spaces and conferences.

It covers online and offline interactions.

The Code is intended to apply broadly to everyone associated with the organisation, including, but certainly not limited to, employees.

This is important because many interactions in the startup community occur in situations where the traditional protections of employment law are not applicable. For example, situations between tenants in a co-working space, between a mentor and mentee in an accelerator, or between attendees at a conference or meetup.

This Code is designed to fill those gaps.

This Code clarifies what a sexual advance is and when it is considered unacceptable. It calls on people to consider whether they exert power over another person, and if so, whether their behaviour might be considered an advance that should be avoided.

However, the Code is not just about sexual harassment.

It is also about offensive language. It is about how sexualised environments can be allowed to form that are in themselves harmful. It is about how these environments can also increase the probability that an act of harassment or assault may occur.

The Code is not merely aspirational. It sets out how reports can be made and what actions may be taken.

Importantly, it does not set out a framework for mandatory reporting.

It is worth explaining why. Although at face value mandatory reporting has merit as a tool to discourage bad behaviour, in reality, it results in creating a less safe environment. Marginalised people are less likely to report when they do not feel they have control over the outcome. Ultimately, people need to use their own judgement to decide when to report something.