This code of conduct governs the environment of the Vox Product team. We created it not because we anticipate bad behavior, but because we believe that articulating our values and obligations to one another reinforces the already exceptional level of respect among the team and because having a code provides us with clear avenues to correct our culture should it ever stray from that course. We make this code public in the hopes of contributing to the ongoing conversation about inclusion in the tech, design, and media communities and encourage other teams to fork it and make it their own. To our team, we commit to enforce and evolve this code as our team grows.
The contents of this code of conduct apply to our interactions in various areas of our shared professional lives, including the Vox Media offices, off-site company events, our Slack and email exchanges, social media, pull request feedback, and industry conferences or other events where we represent Vox Media.
We want our team to be a fun, productive, and safe space for all members. In addition to core values of respect and honesty, there are several ways in which our product team distinguishes itself.
We work with and alongside other teams at Vox Media. Editorial team members and others across the company are our peers and collaborators, not our clients. We maintain open lines of communication and foster good working relationships—indeed, friendships—with our colleagues. And we often switch roles: Product members write for our editorial teams; writers and editors serve as product managers, designers, and engineers; and advertising staffers contribute to the same products that we all use. That collaboration is core to our success.
We value so-called “soft” skills as much as “hard” skills. That is, we love code, but we recognize that writing code is not the only or most important way to contribute to great products. In fact, we object to the labels “soft” and “hard” inasmuch as they presume one set of skills is more valuable than another. “Non-technical” is not synonymous with “inferior.”
We believe in diversity, not merely because it’s a mechanism for happier, more productive teams, but because we believe we have an obligation to work against structural discrimination. This obligation manifests itself in myriad ways—hiring and promotion policies, community outreach, and in our own culture—in which this code of conduct plays a critical role.
Every member of the product team is expected to work hard, be considerate of their colleagues across the company, and contribute to a collaborative, positive, and healthy environment in which we can all succeed.
Be supportive of your colleagues, both proactively and responsively. Offer to help if you see someone struggling or otherwise in need of assistance (taking care not to be patronizing or disrespectful). If someone approaches you looking for help, be generous with your time; if you’re under a deadline, direct them to someone else who may be of assistance. Go out of your way to include people in team jokes or memes, recognizing that we want to build an environment free of cliques.
Be collaborative. Involve your colleagues in brainstorms, sketching sessions, code reviews, planning documents, and the like. It’s not only okay to ask for help or feedback often, it’s unacceptable not to do so. Don’t succumb to either impostor syndrome (believing that you don’t deserve to be here) or blowhard syndrome (believing you can do no wrong). Recognize that in addition to asking for feedback, you are similarly obligated to give it.
Be generous and kind in both giving and accepting critique. Critique is a natural and important part of our culture. Good critiques are kind, respectful, clear, and constructive, focused on goals and requirements rather than personal preferences. You are expected to give and receive criticism with grace.
Be respectful toward remote and IRL interactions alike. Every member of our team is remote at least some of the time. And with two main offices and several smaller offices, even those of us who work in an office nearly every day are routinely remote to others. Adopt habits that are inclusive and productive for team members wherever they are: make liberal use of video hangouts, document meetings and decisions thoroughly, and pay attention to timezones when scheduling events.
Be humane. Be polite and friendly in all forms of communication, especially remote communication, where opportunities for misunderstanding are greater. Use sarcasm carefully. Tone is hard to decipher online; make judicious use of emoji to aid in communication. Use video hangouts and IRL meetings when it makes sense; face-to-face discussion benefits from all kinds of social cues that may go missing in other forms of communication.
The product team is committed to providing a welcoming and safe environment for people of all races, gender identities, gender expressions, sexual orientations, physical abilities, physical appearances, socioeconomic backgrounds, life experiences, nationalities, ages, religions, and beliefs. Discrimination and harassment are expressly prohibited in our employee handbook. Harassment may include, but is not limited to, intimidation; stalking; unwanted recording or photography; inappropriate physical contact; use of sexual or discriminatory imagery, comments, or jokes; intentional or repeated misgendering; sexist, racist, ableist, or otherwise discriminatory or derogatory language; and unwelcome sexual attention.
In order to provide such an environment, we commit to being considerate in our language use. Any behavior or language which is unwelcoming—whether or not it rises to the level of harassment—is also strongly discouraged.
Much exclusionary behavior takes the form of microaggressions—subtle put-downs which may be unconsciously delivered. Regardless of intent, microaggressions can have a significant negative impact on victims and have no place on our team.
The same goes for tone policing, or responding negatively to the emotion behind a person’s message while ignoring its content (telling someone who is discussing an issue that makes them upset to “calm down” instead of responding to their concerns is an example of tone policing).
The language we use every day is frequently tied to a past of violence and imperialism; many of these assumptions are built into the technology we use (the internet itself began as a US military effort). Without thinking about their origins, we may use military ranks to refer to people, refer to a crisis evaluation as a “war room,” talk about a shocking event as a “bombshell,” and so on. In consideration of your colleagues’ life experiences and how they may be affected by such language, commit to finding neutral replacements for these words in your work, and finding ways to limit exposure to them via third-party sources. When reviewing these sources, review the terminology they use with the same care you would review their technical specifications.
There are a host of behaviors and language common on tech teams which are worth noting as specifically unwelcome: Avoid “well, actuallys”—pedantic corrections that are often insulting and unproductive; make an effort not to interrupt your colleagues while they are speaking; never respond with surprise when someone asks for help; and take care neither to patronize your colleagues nor assume complete knowledge of a topic. This last point is especially important when talking about technical topics: Many women and people of color in the tech industry have many tales of being either mansplained about a field in which they are experts, or else excluded from learning opportunities because a colleague wouldn’t make an effort to answer questions—don’t be that person. Remember that your colleagues may have expertise you are unaware of, and listen at least as much as you speak.
These guidelines are ambitious, and we’re not always going to succeed in meeting them. When something goes wrong—whether it’s a microaggression or an instance of harassment—there are a number of things you can do to address the situation with your fellow product team members or with our people and culture team. We know that you’ll do your best work if you’re happy and comfortable in your surroundings, so we take concerns about this stuff seriously. Depending on your comfort level and the severity of the situation, here are some things you can do to address it:
Address it directly. If you’re comfortable bringing up the incident with the person who instigated it, pull them aside to discuss how it affected you. Be sure to approach these conversations in a forgiving spirit: an angry or tense conversation will not do either of you any good. If you’re unsure how to go about that, try discussing with your manager or with the people and culture team first—they might have some advice about how to make this conversation happen.
If you’re too frustrated to have a direct conversation, there are a number of alternate routes you can take.
Talk to a peer or mentor. Your colleagues are likely to have personal and professional experience on which to draw that could be of use to you. If you have someone you’re comfortable approaching, reach out and discuss the situation with them. They may be able to advise on how they would handle it, or direct you to someone who can. The flip side of this, of course, is that you should also be available when your colleagues reach out to you.
Talk to your manager. Your manager probably knows quite a lot about the dynamics of your team, which makes them a good person to look to for advice. They may also be able to talk directly to the colleague in question if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe doing so yourself. Finally, your manager will be able to help you figure out how to ensure that any conflict with a colleague doesn’t interfere with your work.
Talk to a member of the people and culture team. People and culture team members are happy to talk to you in person or remotely about the problem and help figure out what steps to take. Members of the people and culture team are good at listening to concerns about small violations, but they’ll also be able to help out in situations where more drastic action needs to be taken. In all cases, the people and culture team will make every effort to stay in clear communication with anyone who reports a problem, maintaining confidentiality whenever possible. Depending on the severity and urgency of a particular issue, the member of the people and culture team you’ve spoken to may need to escalate a report to include others on the people and culture team, or to include managers or our legal team. Where this is necessary, you can expect to be kept in the loop about the progress of your report.
Sometimes, you’ll be a witness to something that seems like it isn’t aligned with our values. Err on the side of caring for your colleagues in situations like these. Even if an incident seems minor, reach out to the person impacted by it to check in. In certain situations, it may even be helpful to speak directly to the person who has violated the code of conduct, a manager, or a member of the people and culture team directly to voice your concerns.
If you want to speak to a person impacted by an incident or to the person who has violated the code of conduct, but you’re unsure of how to navigate these interactions, try reaching out to a member of the people and culture team—these conversations are tricky, and the people and culture team can help you figure out how best to approach them.
We understand that none of us are perfect: It’s expected that all of us, regardless of our backgrounds, will from time to time fail to live up to our very high standards. What matters isn’t having a perfect track record, but owning up to your mistakes and making a clear and persistent effort to improve. If you are approached as having (consciously or otherwise) acted in a way that might make your colleagues feel unwelcome, refrain from being defensive; remember that if someone calls you out, it likely took a great deal of courage for them to do so. The best way to respect that courage is to acknowledge your mistake, apologize, and move on—with a renewed commitment to do better.
That said, repeated or severe violations of this code can and will be addressed by the people and culture team, and can lead to disciplinary actions, including termination.
Members of the Vox Product team are invited to contribute to this code of conduct in one of two ways: either by filing an issue to raise a concern or share feedback, or by opening a pull request with suggested changes. If you have a question or suggestion for evolving the policies, file an issue outlining your suggestion, providing as much context as you can. If you’ve spotted a typo, discriminatory language, or any other change which could be more expediently handled via a commit, go ahead and open a pull request.
You may speak privately about a proposed change to your manager or a member of the product leadership team before raising it here, if you like.
Team members are expected to watch this repo and are invited to contribute to discussions around changes. Note, of course, that contributions to the code and discussions around it are themselves governed by the rules of the code.
All changes and suggestions will be vetted by the product leadership team, the people and culture team, and, if necessary, by the legal department.
In addition, we consulted many excellent resources, including:
This code of conduct is released under an Attribution CC BY license.