Adopting a model code of conduct

Alister Coleman
Jun 21, 2018 · 4 min read
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At Tempus Partners we focus on identifying great founders building unique companies — period. And with that comes a desire and a need to embrace people and ideas regardless of a team’s backgrounds, races, genders, identities, religions and ideologies.

In fact, within Tempus Partners we ask that each team member ascribe to 8 core values and principles, the most important of which is:

  • Our respect for differing perspectives, diverse experience, and gender and cultural diversity, allows us to enhance our collective culture, performance and team.

We all sign up to these principles and values as a mode of operating and behaving on a daily basis.

But in order for the Australian Startup Community and broader technology ecosystem to thrive, it is important for all members of the community to feel included and respected, and brought along for the collective journey.

Which is why we are excited that today the Australian Startup Community launched a Model Code of Conduct , with the assistance of Blackbird Ventures, Startmate, Airtree Ventures, Square Peg Capital, Rampersand and Blue Sky Venture Capital, who worked closely with San Francisco-based Diversity & Inclusion expert Valerie Aurora.

As of today, Tempus Partners has adopted the Code alongside the VC’s above, and we invite our investee companies and others in the Australian startup community to do the same. We also want to call out Sam Wong of Blackbird Ventures for her leadership in developing the Code.

The Code is a starting point, its Version 1, and we look forward to it being improved over time with the input of others in the community.

Why did we adopt 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 guiding and creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for marginalised groups.

The expectations and boundaries of behaviour need to clear, yet a majority of interactions occur outside structured environments governed by legislation such as workplaces. And so the starting principle for this code is to set out the type of bad behaviour we will not walk past as a community.

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.

The Code has been created 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.

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