Edit: I think the suggestions in "How my community successfully reduced sexual misconduct" by titotal are more useful/generally applicable for EA than the ones I make here. If you only have time for one of these posts, pick that one.
Last year, I attended an Authentic Leadership Training with the Authentic Relating org Authentic Revolution, and was course lead mentee for a second iteration.
One thing that struck me about AuthRev's ways is their approach to policing romantic relationships between facilitators and participants, within a community whose personal/professional overlap is even stronger than EA’s.
They have a romantic non-escalation policy that goes roughly like this:
For three months after a retreat, and for one month after an evening event, facilitators are prohibited from engaging romantically, or even hinting at engaging romantically, with attendees. The only exception is when a particular attendee and the facilitator already dated beforehand.
These numbers are drawn from experience: As some people have most of their social life within the community, longer timelines are so unworkable that the default is to just ignore them and do everything in secret. Shorter timelines, however, tend to be insufficiently effective for mitigating the problems this policy tries to address.
Granted, Authentic Relating is a set of activities that is far more emotionally intense than what usually happens at EA events. However, I think there are some reasons for EA community builders to adhere to this policy anyway:
- Romance distracts from the cause. Attendees should focus on getting as much ea-related value as possible out of EA events, and we as organizers should focus on generating as much value as possible. Thinking about which hot community builder you can get with later distracts from that. And, thinking about which hot participant you can get with later on can lead to decisions way more costly than just lost opportunities to provide more value.
- None of us are as considerate and attuned in our private lives as when doing community building work. Sometimes we don't have the energy to listen well. Sometimes we really need to vent. Sometimes we are just bad at communication when we don't pay particular attention to choosing our words. The personas we put up at work just aren't real people. If people fall in love with the version of me that they see leading groups, they will inevitably be disappointed later.
- Power differentials make communication about consent difficult. And the organizer/attendee-separation creates a power differential, whether we like it or not. The more power differential there is, the more important it is to move very slowly and carefully in romance.
- Status is sexy. Predatorily-minded people know this. Thus, they are incentivized to climb the social EA ladder for the wrong reasons. If we set norms that make it harder for people to leverage their social status for romantic purposes, we can correct for this. That is, as long as our rules are not so harsh that they will just be ignored by default.
Though a part of me finds this policy inconvenient, I think it would be a concerning sign if I weren’t ready to commit to it after I saw it’s value in practice. However, EA is different from AR, and a milder/different/more specified version might make more sense for us. Accordingly, I’ll let the idea simmer a bit before I fully commit.
Which adjustments would you make for our context? Some specific questions I have:
- AR retreats are intensely facilitated experiences. During at least some types of EA retreats, the hierarchies are much flatter, and participants see the organizers "in function" only roughly as much as during an evening-long workshop. Does this justify shortening the three months, e.g. to one month no matter for which type of event?
- I'd expect that the same rule should apply for professional 1-on-1s, for example EA career coaching. But what about 1-on-1s during conferences, where there is not necessarily an equivalent to the organizer/attendee hierarchy, but informal power differences still apply?
- From which level of involvement on does it make sense to expect community builders to adhere to a policy like this? While "Starting with the very first event they support!" might make sense for maximum safety, that is so costly that I'd expect us to miss out on a lot of volunteers.
- Under which circumstances, and to which extent, might a policy like this make sense for EAs working in other roles than community building?
Thanks to Sara Ness for comments on the first draft of this post.
I tend to think this doesn't make enough of a difference to warrant milder rules, but I'm unsure about this.
I don't want to call the current norm of "Conferences are a dating-free zone" into question here. Instead, I'm asking: "How long after a conference should be a dating-free time as well, and under which circumstances?"