ICANN’s board of directors this afternoon approved an anti-harassment policy designed to protect community members from unwanted sexual attention.
It’s the policy inspired by the now infamous Cheesesandwichgate incident at the Marrakech meeting a year ago.
But general counsel John Jeffrey noted that there have been multiple similar complaints to the Ombudsman over the last year or so, possibly as a result of increased awareness that such complaints are possible.
While the text of the resolution has not yet been published, I believe it’s approving a lightly modified version of the policy draft outlined here.
That draft sought to ban activities such as “sexually suggestive touching” and “lewd jokes” at ICANN meetings. A laundry list of characteristics (such as race, gender, disability) were also given special protection.
What’s possibly more interesting than the new policy itself is the manner in which the policy was approved.
It was the first time in goodness knows how many years — definitely over 10, and I’m tempted to say over 15, but nobody seems to know for sure — that the ICANN board has deliberated on a resolution in public.
By “in public” I mean the 30-minute session was live-streamed via Adobe Connect from an undisclosed location somewhere at ICANN 58, here in Copenhagen. An in-person live audience was not possible for logistical reasons, I’m told.
Apart from the first few years of ICANN’s existence, its public board meetings have usually been rubber-stamping sessions at the end of the week-long meeting, based on discussions that had gone on behind closed doors days earlier.
So today’s session was a significant attempt to increase transparency that is likely to be welcomed by many.
Unfortunately, its existence could have been communicated better.
For the first 15 minutes, there were no more than 19 people in the Adobe room, and I believe I may have been the only one who was not ICANN staff or board.
After I tweeted about it, another 10 or so people showed up to listen.
— Kevin Murphy (@DomainIncite) March 11, 2017
Given that increased board transparency is something many sections of the community have been clamoring for for years, one might have expected a bigger turnout.
While the meeting had been prominently announced, it was not listed on the official ICANN 58 schedule, so had failed to make it onto the to-do lists of any of the iCal slaves pottering around the venue.
The session itself came across to me as a genuine discussion — not stage-managed or rehearsed as some had feared.
Directors raised issues such as the possible increased workload on the Ombudsman, the fact that the current Ombudsman (or Ombudsperson, as some directors referred to him) is male, and the availability of female staff members to receive “sensitive” complaints.
Today’s open session is part of a “pilot” and is due to be followed up on Sunday with another, which will discuss ICANN’s fiscal 2018 operating plan and budget.
Again, turning up to watch in person will not be possible, but the 90-minute session will be streamed live at 0745 UTC here.
The first in the pilot program, which even I missed, was in Brussels in September.
ICANN ships a quite staggering amount of equipment to its thrice-yearly public meetings, equivalent to more than 12 mid-sized cars at the recent Helsinki meeting.
That’s one of the interesting data points in ICANN’s just published “Technical Report” — a 49-page data dump — for ICANN 56.
It’s the second meeting in a row the organization has published such a report, the first for a so-called “Meeting B” or “Policy Forum” which run on a reduced-formality, more focused schedule.
The Helsinki report reveals that 1,436 people showed up in person, compared to 2,273 for March’s Marrakech meeting, which had a normal ICANN meeting agenda.
The attendees were 61% male and 32% female. Another 7% did not disclose their gender. No comparable numbers were published in the Marrakech report.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the Helsinki numbers show not a terrible gender balance as far as tech conferences go. It’s a bit better than you’d expect from anecdotal evidence.
Not many big tech events publish their male/female attendee ratios, but Google has said attendees at this year’s Google IO were 23% female.
Europeans accounted for most of the Helsinki attendees, as you might expect, at 43%. That compared to 20% in Marrakech.
The next largest geographic contingent came from North America — 27%, compared to just 18% in Marrakech.
The big surprise to me is how much equipment ICANN ships out to each of its meetings.
In March, it moved 93 metric tonnes (103 American tons) of kit to Marrakech. About 19 metric tonnes of that was ICANN-owned gear, the rest was hired. That weighs as much as 3.5 African elephants, the report says.
For Helsinki, that was up to 19.7 metric tonnes, more than 12 cars’ worth. Shipped equipment includes stuff like 412 microphones, 73 laptops and 28 printers.
In both reports, ICANN explains the shipments like this:
Much like a touring band, ICANN learned over time that the most cost-effective method of ensuring that meeting participants have a positive experience is to sea freight our own equipment to ICANN meetings. We ship critical equipment, then rent the remaining equipment locally to help promote the economy.
The Helsinki report, which reveals more data than anyone could possibly find useful, can be downloaded as a PDF here.
ICANN’s first formal case of sexual harassment has been closed with no official finding by the Ombudsman.
Ombudsman Chris LaHatte today said he was unable to establish the facts of the alleged incident, which is said to have taken place during a coffee break at the ICANN 55 meeting in Marrkech, March 6.
LaHatte said that the complainant’s decision to publicly name the man she says harassed her had “compromised” his investigation and that the alleged actions of the man “cannot be considered serious”.
It also emerged publicly for the first time that the interaction that led to the complaint was a brief conversation about sandwiches.
LaHatte’s report on the incident says:
The allegation was that she had a relatively brief discussion with a man, which she found derogatory and which she considered was sexual harassment. The description was that he leaned towards her and took her ICANN identification tag. There was a general discussion about the food, and she said that he made the comment, “you can go make me a cheese sandwich”
But the complainant told DI a slightly different version of events that she said is more accurate:
[The man] approached me, pulled at my name tag, examined it and dropped it. A little later, he lifted my name tag and flipped it back and forth, asking me “Where are you from?”, leaned in, lecherously looked at me and then said, “do you know how to make a cheese sandwich?” I was taken aback and responded angrily with “Yes, that is why I came here, to make you cheese sandwiches.” He went on to throw another lecherous look my way and said, “Well, I love veg sandwiches.”
According to LaHatte, the man in question flatly denies that the incident even took place.
The complainant says the incident can be defined as sexual harassment under the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Indian law (she is Indian), and the ICANN corporate policy against sexual harassment among its staff.
Neither party is a member of ICANN staff.
LaHatte says in his report that he has not considered jurisdiction or matters of definition, given that he was unable to even establish the facts of the incident.
In this complaint, the matters alleged cannot be considered serious by any standard. If in fact the action and statement were made, it may have been a lapse of good manners and insensitive to gender. Such issues need to be taken in proportion, and best practice is not to debate this in a public forum where the issues are not yet clear…
However any chance of discussing the comments has been compromised by the decision to identify the other party before my investigation could be completed, and for the parties to have had a full opportunity to consider the alternative versions. The other party has been publically named without an opportunity to make any comment or denial of the incident. It is also part of my role as the ombudsman to ensure that standards of procedural fairness are met, and the premature publication regrettably does not meet the standards of natural justice, because the parties have a right to be heard before this occurred.
LaHatte names the complainant (who waived her right to confidentiality) but not the man (who didn’t) in his report.
The man accused of sexual harassment at an ICANN meeting is considering legal action for defamation.
He’s also filed a counter-complaint with ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte, after his accuser named him on a public mailing list.
That’s according to emails from LaHatte, screen-captured and posted to social media by the woman making the accusations.
LaHatte had previously told the woman that the man could not recall the alleged incident, said to have taken place during ICANN 55 in Marrakech a couple of weeks ago.
The woman says her name tag — at ICANN meetings a rectangle of plastic hanging loosely around the neck on a strap — was “pulled at” while the man made “inappropriate remarks”.
The content of the alleged remarks has not yet been disclosed.
She published her Ombudsman complaint — which names the man — to a public mailing list late last week.
In the new email, LaHatte tells her that naming the man publicly has complicated matters.
The investigation now becomes very difficult. Indeed, he has complained about the naming as being unfair and asked me to undertake a complaint investigation about your action.
The man was entitled to a “fair and impartial investigation”, he said, but “his privacy has been compromised”.
I have been waiting for a response from you about his reaction to the allegations. So he has now complained that he has been named before he had a chance for your response to be considered by me, and for any analysis and report. This is a matter of procedural fairness, and in my view he should have had the opportunity to have your reply. He is therefore considering his response which may include litigation unfortunately.
The complainant says she wants ICANN to create a sexual harassment policy for its participants — she was already talking to LaHatte about this before the alleged incident.
ICANN’s board of directors said in Marrakech it had instructed staff to look into the possibility of such a policy.
The woman who says she was sexually harassed at the ICANN meeting in Marrakech earlier this month has controversially named the alleged perpetrator on a public mailing list.
She’s also publicly released documents exchanged between herself and the ICANN Ombudsman, with whom she has made a formal complaint.
According to her complaint the man, a longstanding and often vocal member of the ICANN community “approached me, pulled at my name tag, and passed inappropriate remarks.”
“I felt like my space and safety as a young woman in the ICANN community was at stake,” the complaint says.
No allegations of physical contact have been made, and the content of the “inappropriate remarks” has not been disclosed.
I’m not going to name either party here. They’re “the man” and “the woman” for now.
The woman has said on the mailing list in question that she’s waived her right to confidentiality.
I contacted the man for comment at the weekend and have not yet received a reply.
An email from Ombudsman Chris LaHatte, released by the woman, shows that he has spoken to the man.
The man said he could not recall the incident and LaHatte declined to tell him who his accuser was, for confidentiality reasons, the email says.
The release of the documents has sparked discussion on the mailing list and social media about whether publicly naming the man was the most appropriate course of action.
Inevitably, there’s also been some discussion about what constitutes sexual harassment.
The woman said she had already been engaged with LaHatte about the possibility of ICANN creating a sexual harassment policy, and that “this incident pushed me to take forward what had hitherto been a mere academic interest with increased vigour”.
She said in a released email predating Marrakech that during ICANN 54 last year, her first ICANN meeting, “I personally felt as though a few inappropriate remarks were made by certain male co attendees”.
When the woman initially made her allegations at the ICANN public forum, ICANN director Markus Kummer said the board had asked ICANN staff to look at possibly adjusting the longstanding Expected Standards Of Behavior to more specifically address sexual harassment.
“We clearly do not condone improper conduct of any kind such as harassment or otherwise and there should be zero tolerance for it within the community,” he said during the public forum.