Inside Code of Conduct

Associations must consider the thoughts and views of all members when crafting bylaws.

By Teresa Brinati

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Addressing bad behavior by fans is a top priority for the National Basketball Association (NBA). In a 2019 player poll conducted by “The Athletic,” 13.7% cited fan behavior as the NBA’s most pressing issue. Last season alone there were several incidents—including racist taunts—directed at players, including superstars Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins and Kyle Lowry. The fan code of conduct has been a standard announcement in every NBA arena for years. It’s now being shown on gigantic video screens and promoted throughout each game. And the league is continuing to strengthen the code—zero tolerance for abusive or hateful behavior will be the policy moving forward, according to

Professional and trade associations are similarly playing both offense and defense with their codes of conduct to address issues on their own courts—particularly at conferences and on social media where member interactions are heightened. No matter the venue, there’s no room for hateful behavior or bullying, and addressing such violations is crucial. Associations are also finding creative ways to remind members about their codes of conduct, tuning up their codes to apply to virtual environments, and incorporating inclusivity language to fortify policies and procedures. There are both bold and small actions that you can take to help shape members’ positive interactions within your association.

“We use the code in a proactive way—we intend for it to be aspirational. We envision helping people to have conversations about ethics and social responsibility first as students and then in the workplace.”

–Marty Wolf, Co-Chair of Leadership Team, Committee on Professional Ethics, Association of Computing Machinery

Be Intentional and Aspirational

According to the Ethics and Compliance Institute, a well-written code of conduct clarifies an organization’s mission, values and principles, linking them with standards of professional conduct. A code spells out values the organization wishes to foster and, in doing so, defines desired behavior.

“We use the code in a proactive way—we intend for it to be aspirational,” says Marty Wolf, co-chair of the leadership team for the Committee on Professional Ethics of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM). Wolf was part of a volunteer-led initiative that improved the code for ACM’s 100,000 members.

“We envision helping people to have conversations about ethics and social responsibility first as students and then in the workplace,” adds Wolf, who is also a professor of math and computer science at Bemidji State University.

A new Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct was adopted in 2018 and ACM goes to great lengths to promote it. Every ACM member agrees to support the Code when they renew their membership. ACM produced a “Code Booklet” that is distributed to all members and at conferences and workshops.

“We have representatives speak about the Code—and computing ethics in general—at workshops, conferences and workplaces around the world,” Wolf says. “Most textbooks that are geared toward computing ethics include the Code and often contain a chapter that introduces it.”

In addition to the Code, the ACM has a policy against harassment. Every conference supported by ACM must implement this policy. Participants are advised of the policy at the time of registration. Attendees are reminded of this policy and its highlights during the opening plenary session.

The American Dental Association’s (ADA) codes of conduct apply to its various stakeholders. Its Member Conduct Policy was adopted in 2011 and is part of ADA’s policy manual. Its Professional Conduct Policy and Prohibition Against Harassment is addressed during the onboarding of employees and is included in the ADA employee handbook.

Although the ADA’s core values and precepts—including its codes of conduct and policies of diversity and inclusion—permeate its annual meeting, there is no specific reference to the codes of conduct at the actual conference. ADA’s Professional Conduct Policy does, however, explicitly state that it is applicable at all association functions and events.

In addition, all volunteers participate in an orientation when taking a leadership position at the ADA. The orientation includes a detailed discussion of all aspects of the Member Conduct Policy and Professional Conduct Policy, as well as principles of corporate governance, conflict of interest and the importance of diversity and inclusion to the sustainability of the association.

They —> 313% More Lookups

The gender-neutral pronoun “they” was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year in 2019, which noted that lookups for the term increased by 313% over the previous year.

Cultivate Online Civility

One of the biggest challenges that associations face is civility on virtual channels. From blogs to websites to social media, there are continuous opportunities for posting and virtual interaction. To elevate discourse and foster meaningful social engagement, the

American Medical Association (AMA) has a digital code of conduct that outlines its community guidelines and expectations for those engaging with its posts, as well as for employees who are active on social media and AMA members who amplify AMA messages.

“Our code of conduct is our North Star,” says Caitlin Ganet, AMA’s senior manager for Social Media and Community Engagement. “We strictly enforce our code of conduct when it comes to hate speech, discriminatory language and the spreading of blatant misinformation—all of which are prohibited.”

Violations of the code are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, as each is unique. “With our grounding in science and medicine, we encourage discussion and the exchange of ideas,” Ganet adds. “But when someone is in plain violation of our code of conduct, we do not hesitate to hide their post or, if necessary, ban the user from our page.”

Ganet shares a specific example: March 30 is Doctors’ Day, and each year AMA spotlights physicians and medical students, sharing their stories on AMA’s social media channels. In 2019, AMA shared an image and story of a female physician who wears a hijab. The innocuous post unleashed a number of racist comments, all of which were irrelevant and brazenly discriminatory. The comments upset not only the individual being profiled but also a number of AMA members and board members who saw the post.

“Our team rushed into action, hiding comments and banning users who clearly violated our code of conduct,” Ganet states. “In those instances, we view banning as a warranted response, because there is no place for hate speech in the space we’ve created to celebrate physicians.”

ADA reported that it also maintains a separate policy covering proper use of social media. That policy is applicable to both employees and volunteers. The policy is addressed during onboarding and a copy of the policy is accessible to all employees and volunteers. Infractions by staff would be addressed by the Human Resources Division, while issues with volunteers would be addressed within ADA’s leadership structure, including, if warranted, the Board of Trustees.

Take Small Actions

The Digital Library Federation (DLF), which has nearly 200 member institutions, provides specific examples in its Code of Conduct of how to provide a conference experience that is inclusive of all people. DLF refers to them as “small actions” that attendees and presenters can take to meet this goal: “We suggest: listening as much as you speak; encouraging and yielding the floor to those whose viewpoints may be underrepresented in a group; using welcoming language, for instance by honoring pronoun preferences and favoring gender-neutral collective nouns (‘people,’ not ‘guys’); accepting critique graciously and offering it constructively; giving credit where it is due …”

Many of these small actions can easily be incorporated by associations. The one gaining traction in many organizations has to do with language. While using respectful language in general is implicit in daily conduct, there’s a growing sensitivity to pronoun usage, as the DLF code illustrates. In fact, the gender-neutral pronoun “they” was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year in 2019, which noted that lookups for the term increased by 313% over the previous year. As further explains, “More recently, though, ‘they’ has also been used to refer to one person whose gender identity is nonbinary, a sense that is increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers.”

DLF’s code of conduct helps to foster an inclusive and welcoming environment. DLF requests attendees’ pronoun preferences on conference registration forms and instructs panel moderators to ask every panelist their pronoun preference.

Members have embraced this code improvement. “I have made it a practice to wear an enamel pin to every conference with my pronouns,” says Rebecca Pattillo (she/her), metadata librarian in Archives and Special Collections at the University of Louisville.

Revisit and Reinforce

Codes of conduct allow us to engage positively and productively within our communities by spelling out the values our organizations wish to foster and, in the process, defining desired behavior. Consider what steps your association might take to improve interactions among your members. Whether revisiting your code, developing one specifically for social media, or encouraging the use of inclusive language, it’s an opportunity to reinforce a shared mission. While having a code of conduct may not always be a slam dunk for best behavior, it’s still one of the most important policies your organization can put into action.

Codes of Conduct
You can access the Codes of Conduct for each of the organizations mentioned in this article online, listed here:


Follow the Rules at Association Forum: Head online to to learn about acceptable behavior for members both in person and for online communities.

About the Author

Teresa Brinati is the Director of Publishing for the Society of American Archivists and may be reached at

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