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One in three women say they have seen sexism at ICANN

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2017, Domain Policy

Almost a third of female members of the ICANN community say they have witnessed sexism in the community, according to the results of a recent survey.

Asked “Have you ever experienced or witnessed what you perceive to be sexism or gender bias within the ICANN community?”, 30% of women respondents said “Yes”.

Only 17% of men answered in the affirmative. Overall, 75% of respondents said they had not seen such biases in action.

The broad survey into gender balance at ICANN was carried out over a month in June and July with a web-based tool and got 584 responses.

Participants were self-selecting, and there were slightly more female respondents than male (going against the grain of usual participation data), so the results should probably not be considered completely scientific.

The survey did not offer its own definition of sexism, so respondents were able to use their own judgement.

Of those who said they’d seen sexism in the community, most said they’d seen it at ICANN’s regular public meetings. Over a third said they’d witnessed it on mailing lists.

The older the participant, the more likely it was that they had seen behavior they considered sexist.

ICANN suggests that this could be because behaviors have changed as ICANN has matured, or that younger people have different definitions of sexism than their older peers.

Of those who said they had witnessed sexism, only four people chose to report it through ICANN channels such as the Ombudsman. Three of those people were men.

Almost half said they “chose” not to report the behavior, while 41% said they were unsure how to go about reporting it.

Some people who chose to add additional color to their responses said that they had only heard about the reportable incident second-hand.

The survey also found that almost 60% of respondents believe that there are barriers to participating in the ICANN community.

Those people were given the opportunity to rank factors that could act as barriers. Cost came out in a strong lead, but gender was found to be just as much a barrier as language.

That may be not so much a critique of the community itself, but rather of the backwards attitudes to women in some of the countries in which ICANN hosts its meetings.

Only 9% of women respondents said they have personally experienced a gender-related barrier to participation. Cost, lack of time, knowledge and geography all came out ahead.

When it came to solutions, the survey found that almost three quarters of respondents supported voluntary targets to promote gender balance in the community.

However, fewer than half of respondents — still a rather high 41% — said there should be “mandatory” quotas of women.

Unsurprisingly, support for affirmative action along mandatory lines was much higher among women than men, and much higher among the younger crowd than the old-timers.

The full report and a rather pretty infographic can be downloaded in the UN language of your choosing from here.

Should ICANN get breastfeeding areas? Have your say!

Kevin Murphy, June 12, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has launched a survey of community members’ views on gender, apparently trying to figure out whether it has a sexism problem.

The short, anonymous quiz, published today, asks a bunch of reasonable questions about gender diversity at ICANN’s physical meetings and online interactions.

The organization wants to know if you think your gender has had any influence on your participation at ICANN, and whether you think it could in your future in the community.

It wants to know if you think ICANN is too male-dominated, whether gender is a barrier to progression, and whether you feel represented by current leadership.

The survey also throws up a few questions I found a little surprising.

Should ICANN be holding “educational” sessions on gender diversity? Should it have “mandatory” diversity “quotas”? Should its meetings have breastfeeding areas? Would people who don’t identify as either gender have difficulty ascending to leadership positions?

Founded in 1998, ICANN is the organization tasked with coordinating certain of the internet’s unique technical identifiers.

ICANN receives first sexual harassment complaint

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Ombudsman has received what is thought to be the first complaint of sexual harassment at an ICANN meeting.

The allegation emerged during a meeting between non-commercial stakeholders and the ICANN board of directors yesterday.

During its sessions with constituency groups yesterday, the ICANN board had pushed participants for their views on geographic and gender diversity in the ICANN community.

“Two days ago I was sexually harassed at this meeting,” the complainant, who I’m not going to name here, told the board.

She said she discovered the best way to address her grievance was by reporting it to the ICANN Ombudsman.

“I was amazed that the Ombudsman told me that I was the first registered complaint of sexual harassment in the history of ICANN,” she said.

No details of the incident or alleged perpetrator were given.

The complainant said that ICANN should have a policy in place to deal with such behavior.

The organization has written expected standards of behavior, but they don’t specifically cover harassment.

While I’m aware of multiple incidents of women feeling sexually harassed at ICANN meetings — even witnessed a couple first-hand — this is the first time I’ve heard about a formal complaint being made.

A few years ago, the Ombudsman stepped in quickly to resolve an issue of sexist paraphernalia at a exhibitor’s booth, but that complaint was made by a man and did not amount to “harassment” as such.

Another ICANN director mysteriously quits

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN director Olga Madruga-Forti unexpectedly quit the board last week.

ICANN did not give an explanation for her sudden departure, which came toward the end of the ICANN 51 public meeting in Los Angeles.

The Argentinian telco lawyer’s resignation means she will miss the third and final year of her appointed three-year term.

Her decision comes almost exactly a year after Filipino entrepreneur Judith Vazquez also quit, again with no reason given, two years into her own three-year term.

This possible coincidence has led to speculation that the ICANN board has an “aggressively male culture”, whatever that means.

Both Madruga-Forti and Vazquez were selected by the Nominating Committee, which has guidelines obliging it to try to maintain a healthy gender balance on the ICANN board.

I’m not sure whether Madruga-Forti’s resignation supports or challenges my previously stated view that pro-female gender discrimination by NomCom is of questionable value.

On the one hand, NomCom has for two years in a row selected candidates — partly on the basis of their gender and geographic origins — that didn’t make it through a full term.

On the other hand, if the male-heavy gender balance on the board is to blame for these resignations, perhaps a bit of enforced balancing may help maintain a stable board in future.

It’s a tricky one.

Currently, only four of the (currently) 20-member board are female. Three have voting rights. Of those three, two were selected by NomCom. The third was elected by the At-Large.

Two of them have been on the board for less than a week, having been selected or elected for terms beginning last Thursday.

It seems likely that Madruga-Forti’s permanent replacement will turn out to be female. Just a hunch.

What do you think? Is ICANN too blokey? How important should gender balance be on the ICANN board?