Network Working Group                                         D. Crocker
Internet-Draft                               Brandenburg InternetWorking
Intended status: Informational                                  N. Clark
Expires: September 6, 2014                            Pavonis Consulting
                                                           March 5, 2014

          An IETF with Much Diversity and Professional Conduct


   The process of producing today's Internet through a culture of open
   participation and diverse collaboration has proved strikingly
   efficient and effective, and it is distinctive among standards
   organizations.  Historically participation in the IETF and its
   antecedent was almost entirely composed of well-funded, American,
   white, male engineers.  No matter the intentions of the participants,
   such a narrow demographic distorts group dynamics, both in management
   and in personal interactions.  In the case of the IETF, group
   interaction style can often demonstrate singularly aggressive
   behavior, often including singularly hostile tone and content.
   Groups with greater diversity make better decisions.  Obtaining
   meaningful diversity requires more than generic good will and
   statements of principle.  Many different behaviors can serve to
   reduce participant diversity or participation diversity.  This paper
   discusses the nature and practicalities of IETF attention to its
   diverse participation and to the requirement for professional

Status of This Memo

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on September 6, 2014.

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Copyright Notice

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   ( in effect on the date of
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Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Concerns  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.1.  Diversity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.2.  Harassment and Bullying . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   3.  Constructive Participation  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     3.1.  Access  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     3.2.  Engagement  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     3.3.  Facilitation  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
     3.4.  Balance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
     3.5.  IETF Track Record . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
     3.6.  Avoiding Distraction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
   4.  Responses to Unconstructive Participation . . . . . . . . . .  13
   5.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13
   6.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13
     6.1.  References - Normative  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13
     6.2.  References - Informative  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  14
   Appendix A.  Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15
   Authors' Addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15

1.  Introduction

   The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) grew out of a research
   effort that was started in the late 1960s, with central funding by
   the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA,
   later DARPA), employing a collection of research sites around the
   United States, and including some participation by groups of the US
   Military.  The community was originally restricted to participation
   by members of the funded research groups.  In the 1980s,
   participation expanded to include projects funded by other agencies,
   most notably the US National Science Foundation for its NSFNet
   effort.  At around the time the IETF was created in its current form,

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   in the late 1980s, participation in the group became fully open,
   permitting attendance by anyone, independent of funding, affiliation,
   country of origin, or the like.

   Beyond the obvious effects of the resulting technology that we now
   enjoy, the process of producing today's Internet through a culture of
   open participation and diverse collaboration has proved strikingly
   efficient and effective, and it is distinctive among standards
   organizations.  This culture has been sustained across many changes
   in participant origins, organizational structures, economic cycles,
   and formal processes.  However maintenance of the IETF's
   effectiveness requires constant vigilance.  As new participants join
   the IETF mix, it is increasingly easy for the IETF's operation to
   gradually invoke models from other environments, which are more
   established and more familiar, but are less effective.

   Historically participation in the IETF and its antecedent was almost
   entirely composed of well-funded, American, white, male engineers.
   No matter the intentions of the participants, such a narrow
   demographic distorts group dynamics, both in management and in
   personal interactions.  In terms of management the IETF can be
   significantly in-bred, favoring selection of well-known, white, male,
   American technicians.  Of course, the pool of candidates from which
   selections are made suffer classic limitations of diversity found in
   many engineering environment.  Still there is evidence and perception
   of selection bias, beyond this.

   In the case of the IETF, group interaction style can often
   demonstrate singularly aggressive behavior, often including
   singularly hostile tone and content.  In most professional venues,
   such behavior is deemed highly unprofessional, or worse.  Within the
   IETF, such behavior has had long-standing tolerance.  Criticizing
   someone's hostility is dismissed by saying that's just the way they
   are, and anyone expressing concern about the behavior is typically
   admonished to get thicker skin.

   As the IETF opened its doors to participation by anyone, its
   demographics have predictably moved towards much greater variety.
   However the group culture has not adapted to accommodate these
   changes.  The aggressive debating style, and the tolerance for
   personal attacks, can be extremely off-putting for participants from
   more polite cultures.  And the management selection processes can
   tend to exclude some constituencies inappropriately.

   In 2013, members of an informal IETF women's interest group, called
   "systers", organized a quiet experiment, putting forward a large
   number of women candidates for management positions, through the
   IETF's "Nomcom" process.  Nomcom is itself a potentially diverse

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   group of IETF participants, chosen almost at random.  Hence its
   problematic choices -- or rather, omissions -- could be seen as
   reflecting IETF culture generally.

   Over the years some women have been chosen for IETF positions as
   authors, working group chairs, area directors, IAB members and IAOC
   members.  However the results of the systers experiment were not
   encouraging.  In spite of their engineering a disproportionately high
   number of female candidates, not a single one was selected.  Although
   any one candidate might be rejected for entirely legitimate reasons,
   a pattern of rejection this consistent indicates an organizational
   bias.  The results were presented at an IETF plenary and it
   engendered significant IETF soul-searching, as well as creation of a
   group to consider diversity issues for the IETF.[Div-DT][Div-Discuss]
   Other activities around that same time also engendered IETF
   consideration of unacceptable behaviors, generally classed as
   harassment.  This resulted in a formal IETF anti-harassment

   This paper discusses the nature and practicalities of IETF attention
   to its diverse participation and to the requirement for professional

      NOTE:    This paper covers difficult topics that present
         challenges for constructive discussion.  Nonetheless, feedback
         is eagerly sought to improve what it says and how it says it.
         The suggested forum for this draft is the IETF's Diversity
         discussion list:

2.  Concerns

2.1.  Diversity

   Diversity concerns the variability of a group's composition.  It can
   reasonably touch every conceivable participant attribute.  It
   includes the usual range of "identified class" attributes, including
   race, creed, color, religion, gender and sexual orientation, but also
   extends along with all manner of beliefs, behaviors, experiences,
   preferences and economic status.

   Groups with greater diversity make better decisions.  They perform
   better at diverse tasks both in terms of quantity and quality and a

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   great deal of research has found that heterogeneity often acts as a
   conduit for ideas and innovation.[Kellogg],[WiseCrowd],[Horowitz] The
   implicit assumptions of one participant might not be considerations
   for another, and might even be unknown by still others.  And
   different participants can bring different bases of knowledge and
   different styles of analysis.  The same people from the same
   education and experience will all too readily bring the same ideas
   forward and subject them to the same analysis, thus diminishing the
   likelihood for new ideas and methods to emerge, or underlying
   problems to be noted.

   However a desire to diligently attend to group diversity often leads
   to mechanical, statistical efforts to ensure representation by every
   identified constituency.  For smaller populations, like the IETF and
   especially for small management teams, this approach is counter-
   productive.  First, it is not possible to identify every single
   constituency that might be relevant.  Second, the group size does not
   permit representation by every group.  Consequently, in practical
   terms, legitimate representation of diversity only requires
   meaningful variety, not slavish bookkeeping.  In addition, without
   care it can lead to the negative effects of diversity where decision
   making is slowed, interaction decreased and conflict

   Pragmatically, then, concern for diversity merely requires serious
   attention to satisfying two requirements:

   Participant Diversity --  Decisions about who is allowed into the
      group require ensuring that the selection process encourages
      varying attributes among members.

   Participation Diversity --  Achieving effective generation of ideas
      and reviews within a group requires ensuring that its discussions
      encourage constructive participation by all members and that the
      views of each member are considered seriously.

   In other words, look for real variety in group composition and real
   variety in participant discussion.  This will identify a greater
   variety of possible and practical solutions.

   Obtaining meaningful diversity requires more than generic good will
   and statements of principle.  The challenges, here, are to actively:

   o  Encourage constructive diversity

   o  Work to avoid group dynamics that serve to reduce diversity

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   o  Work to avoid group dynamics that serve to diminish the benefits
      of diversity

   o  Remove those dynamics when they still occur

   It also requires education about the practicalities of diversity in
   an open engineering environment; and it requires organizational
   processes that regularly consider what effect each decision might
   have on diversity.

   Examples abound:

   o  Formally, an IETF working group makes its decisions on its mailing
      list.  Since anyone can join the list, anyone with access to the
      Internet can participate.  However working groups also have
      sessions at the thrice-annual IETF face-to-face meetings and might
      also hold interim meetings, which are face to face, telephonic, or
      video conferencing.  Attendance at these can be challenging.
      Getting to a face to face meeting costs a great deal of money and
      time; remote participation often incurs time-shifting that include
      very early or very late hours.  So increased working group
      reliance on meetings tends to exclude those with less funding or
      less travel time or more structured work schedules.

   o  Vigorous advocacy for a strongly-held technical preference is
      common in engineering communities.  Of course it can be healthy,
      since strong support is necessary to promote success of the work.
      However in the IETF this can be manifest in two ways that are
      problematic.  One is a personal style that is overly aggressive
      and serves to intimidate, and hence unreasonably gag, those with
      other views.  The other is a group style that prematurely embraces
      a choice, and does not permit a fair hearing for alternatives.

   o  Predictably, engineers value engineering skills.  When the task is
      engineering this is entirely appropriate.  However much of the
      IETF's activities, in support of its engineering efforts, is less
      about engineering and more about human and organizational
      processes.  These require very different skills.  To the extent
      that participants in those processes are primarily considered in
      terms of their engineering prowess, those who are instead stronger
      in other, relevant skills will be undervalued, and the diversity
      of expertise that the IETF needs will be lost.

   o  IETF standards are meant to be read, understood and implemented by
      people who were not part of the working group process.  The gist
      of the standards also often needs to be read by managers and
      operators who are not engineers.  IETF specifications enjoy quite
      a bit of stylistic freedom to contain pedagogy, in the service of

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      these audience goals.  However the additional effort to be
      instructional is significant and active participants who already
      understand and embrace the technical details often decline from
      making that effort.  Worse, that effort is also needed during the
      specification development effort, since many participants might
      lack the background or superior insight needed to appreciate what
      is being specified.  Yet the IETF's mantra for "rough consensus"
      is exactly about the need to recruit support.  In fact, the
      process of "educating" others often uncovers issues that have been

2.2.  Harassment and Bullying

   Many different behaviors can serve to reduce participant diversity or
   participation diversity.  One class of efforts is based on overt
   actions to marginalize certain participants, by intimidating them
   into silence or departure.  Intimidation efforts divide into two
   styles warranting distinction.  One is harassment, which pertains to
   biased treatment of demographic classes.  A number of identified
   classes are usually protected by law and community understanding that
   such biased behavior can not be tolerated has progressively improved.

   Other intimidation efforts are tailored to targeted individuals and
   are generally labeled bullying.[Har-Bul],[Video],[Signs] The nature
   and extent of bullying in the workplace is widely underestimated,
   misunderstood and mishandled.  It is:

      "...[B]ehavior directed at an employee that is intended to
      degrade, humiliate, embarrass, or otherwise undermine their
      performance... [T]he sure signs of a bully that signify more than
      a simple misunderstanding or personal disagreement... might

      *  Shouting, whether in private, in front of colleagues, or in
         front of customers

      *  Name-calling

      *  Belittling or disrespectful comments

      *  Excessive monitoring, criticizing, or nitpicking someone's work

      *  Deliberately overloading someone with work

      *  Undermining someone's work by setting them up to fail

      *  Purposefully withholding information needed to perform a job

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      *  Actively excluding someone from normal workplace/staff room
         conversations and making someone feel unwelcome"[wikiHow]

      "Perhaps the most easily recognizable Serial Bully traits are:

      *  Jekyll and Hyde nature -- Dr Jekyll is 'charming' and
         'charismatic'; 'Hyde' is 'evil'

      *  Exploits the trust and needs of organizations and individuals,
         for personal gain

      *  Convincing liar -- Makes up anything to fit their needs at that

      *  Damages the health and reputations of organizations and

      *  Reacts to criticism with Denial, Retaliation, Feigned

      *  Blames victims

      *  Apparently immune from disciplinary action

      *  Moves to a new target when the present one burns out

   Whether directed at classes or individuals, intimidation methods used

   o  Seem relatively passive, such is consistently ignoring a member

   o  Seem mild, such as with a quiet tone or language of condescension

   o  Be quite active, such as aggressively attacking what is said by
      the participant

   o  Be disingenuous, masking attacks in a passive aggressive style

   If tolerated by others, and especially by those managing the group,
   these methods create a hostile work environment.

      When public harassment or bullying is tolerated, the hostile
      environment is not only for the person directly subject to the

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      The harassment also serves to intimidate others who observe that
      it is tolerated.  It teaches them that misbehaviors will not be
      held accountable.

   The IETF's Anti-Harsassment Policy [Anti-Harass] uses a single term
   to cover the classic harassment of identified constituencies, as well
   as the targeted behavior of bullying.  The policy's text is therefore
   comprehensive, defining unacceptable behavior as "unwelcome hostile
   or intimidating behavior."  Further it declares: "Harassment of this
   sort will not be tolerated in the IETF."  An avenue for seeking
   remedy when harassment occurs is specified as a designated

   However the IETF has a long history of tolerating aggressive and even
   hostile behavior by participants.  So this policy signals a
   substantial and welcome change.  The obvious challenge is to make the
   change real, moving the IETF from a culture that tolerates -- or even
   encourages -- inter-personal misbehaviors to one that provides a
   safe, professional, and productive haven for its increasingly-diverse

   Here again, examples abound:

   o  Amongst long-time colleagues, acceptable interpersonal style can
      be whatever the colleagues want, even though it might look quite
      off-putting to an observer.  The problem occurs when an IETF
      participant engages in such behaviors with, or in the presence of,
      others who have not agreed to the social contract of that
      relationship style and might not even understand it.  For these
      others, the behavior can be extremely alienating, creating a
      disincentive against participation.  Yet in the IETF it is common
      for participants to feel entitled to behave in overly familiar or
      aggressive or even hostile fashion that might be acceptable
      amongst colleagues, but is destructive with strangers.

   o  The instant a comment is made that concerns any attribute of a
      speaker, such as their motives, the nature of their employer, or
      the quality of their participation style, the interaction has
      moved away from technical evaluation.  In many cultures, all such
      utterances are intimidating or offensive.  In an open,
      professional participation environment, they therefore cannot be

   o  As a matter of personal style or momentary enthusiasm, it is easy
      to indulge in condescending or dismissive commentary about
      someone's statements.  As a discussion technique, it is intended
      to reduce the target's influence on the group.  Whether non-
      verbal, such as rolling one's eyes; paternalistic, such as noting

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      the target's naivete; or overtly hostile, such as impugning the
      target's motives, it is an attempt to marginalize the person
      rather than focus on the merits of what they are saying.  It
      constitutes harassment or bullying.

3.  Constructive Participation

   The goal of open, diverse participation requires explicit and on-
   going organizational effort to ensure that it happens for access,
   engagement and facilitation.

3.1.  Access

   Aiding participants with access to IETF materials and discussions
   means that it is easy for them to:

   o  Know what exists

   o  Find what is of interest

   o  Retrieve documents or gain access to discussions

   o  Be able to understand the content

   After materials and discussions are located, the primary means of
   making it easy to access the substance of the work is for statements
   to be made in language that is clear and explanatory.  Writers and
   speakers need to carefully consider the likely audience and package
   statements accordingly.  This often means taking a more tutorial
   approach than one might naturally choose.  In speech, it means
   speaking more deliberately, a bit more clearly and a bit more slowly
   than one needs with close collaborators.  When language is cryptic or
   filled with linguistic idiosyncrasies and when speech is too fast, it
   is dramatically less accessible to a diverse audience.

3.2.  Engagement

   Once content is accessible, the challenge is to garner diverse
   contribution for further development.  Engagement means that it easy
   for constructive participants to be heard and taken seriously through
   constructive interaction.

   Within the IETF, the most common challenge is the choices
   participants make in the way they respond to comments.  The essence
   of the IETF is making proposals and offering comments on proposals;
   disagreement is common and often healthy... depending upon the manner
   in which disagreement is pursued.

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3.3.  Facilitation

   In order to obtain the best technology, the best ideas need first to
   be harvested.  Processes that promote free ranging discussion, tease
   out new ideas, and tackle concerns should be promoted.  This will
   also run to:

   o  Encouraging contributions from timid speakers

   o  Showing warmth for new contributors

   o  Preventing dominance by, or blind deference to, those perceived as
      the more senior and authoritative contributors

   o  Actively shutting down derogatory styles

   It is important that participants be facilitated in tendering their
   own ideas readily so that innovation thrives.

3.4.  Balance

   There is the larger challenge of finding balance between efforts to
   facilitate diversity versus efforts to achieve work goals.  Efforts
   to be inclusive include a degree of tutorial assistance for new
   participants.  They also include some tolerance for participants who
   are less efficient at doing the work.  Further, not everyone is
   capable of being constructive and the burdens of accommodating such
   folk can easily become onerous.

   As an example, there can be tradeoffs with meeting agendas.  There is
   common push-back on having working group meetings be a succession of
   presentations.  For good efficiency participants want to have just
   enough presentation to frame a question, and then spend face-to-face
   time in discussion.  However "just enough presentation" does not
   leave much room for tutorial commentary to aid those new to the
   effort.  Meeting time is always too short, and the primary
   requirement is to achieve forward progress.

3.5.  IETF Track Record

   The IETF's track record for making its technical documents openly
   available is notably superb, as is its official policy of open
   participation in mailing lists and meetings.  It's track record with
   management and process documentation is more varied, partly because
   these cover overhead functions, rather than being in the main line of
   IETF work and, therefore, expertise.  So they do not always get
   diligent attention.  Factors include the inherent challenges in doing
   management by engineers, as well as challenges in making management

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   and process documents usable for non-experts and non-native English

   On the surface, the IETF's track record for open access and
   engagement therefore looks astonishingly good, since there is no
   "membership", and anyone is permitted to join IETF mailing lists and
   attend IETF meetings.  Indeed, for those with good funding, time for
   travel, and skills at figuring out the IETF culture, the record
   really is excellent.

   Very real challenges exist for those who have funding, logistics or
   language limitations.  In particular, these impede attendance at
   meetings.  Another challenge is for those from more polite cultures
   who are alienated by the style of aggressive debate that is popular
   in the IETF.

3.6.  Avoiding Distraction

   For any one participant, some other participant's contributions might
   be considered problematic, possibly having little or no value.
   Worse, some contributions are in a style that excites a personal,
   negative reaction.

   The manner chosen for responding to such contributions dramatically
   affects group productivity.  Attacking the speaker's style or motives
   or credentials is not useful, and primarily serves to distract
   discussion from matters of substance.  Among the many possible ways
   to pursue constructive exchange, in the face of such challenges,
   guidance includes:

   o  Ignore such contributions; perhaps someone else can produce a
      productive exchange, but there is no requirement that anyone

   o  Respond to the content, not the author; in the extreme, literally
      ignore the author and merely address the group about the content.

   o  Offer better content, including an explanation of the reasons it
      is better.

   The essential point here is that the way to have a constructive
   exchange about substance is to focus on the substance.  The way to
   avoid getting distracted is to ignore whatever is personal and
   irrelevant to the substance.

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4.  Responses to Unconstructive Participation

   Sometimes problematic participants cannot reasonably be ignored.
   Their behavior is too disruptive, too offensive or too damaging to
   group exchange.  Any of us might have a moment of excess, but when
   the behavior is too extreme or represents a pattern, it warrants

   A common view is that this should be pursued personally, but for such
   cases, it rarely has much effect.  This is where IETF management
   intervention is required.  The IETF now has a reasonably rich set of
   policies concerning problematic behavior.  So the requirement is
   merely to exercise the policies diligently.  Depending on the
   details, the working group chair, mailing list moderator, Ombudperson
   or perhaps IETF Chair is the appropriate person to

   The challenge, here, is for both management and the rest of the
   community to collaborate in communicating that harassment and
   bullying will not be tolerated.  The formal policies make that
   declaration, but they have no meaning unless they are enforced.

   Abusive behavior is easily extinguished.  All it takes is community

5.  Security Considerations

   The security of the IETF's role in the Internet community depends
   upon its credibility as an open and productive venue for
   collaborative development of technical documents.  The potential for
   future legal liability in the various jurisdictions within which the
   IETF operates also indicates a need to act to reinforce behavioral
   policies with specific attention to workplace safety.

6.  References

6.1.  References - Normative

              IETF, "IETF Anti-Harassment Policy", WEB
              ietf-anti-harassment-policy.html, 2013.

   [MlLists]  "IESG Guidance on the Moderation of IETF Working Group
              Mailing Lists", WEB
              moderated-lists.html, .

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6.2.  References - Informative

   [Signs]    "20 Subtle Signs of Workplace Bullying", WEB
     , .

   [Har-Bul]  "Harassment and bullying at work", WEB
              harassment-bullying-at-work.aspx, .

              Horwitz, S. and I. Horwitz, "The Effects of Team Diversity
              on Team Outcomes: A meta-analysis review of team
              demography", Journal of Management Vol 33 (6) p 987-1015,

   [Video]    "Workplace Bullying", WEB
    , .

              (12:30min; animated; what bullying is and is not)

              "IETF Diversity Discussion List", WEB
              mail-archive/web/diversity/current/maillist.html, 2013.

              "Serial Bully Traits", WEB

   [Div-DT]   "Diversity Design Team wiki", WEB https://

   [Kellogg]  "Better Decisions Through Diversity", Kellog Insight
              better_decisions_through_diversity, Oct 2010.

              Heterogeneity can boost group performance

              "The Wisdom of Crowds", Wikipedia
    , .

   [wikiHow]  Terry, , Ed., Booky, , Ed., Versageek, , Ed., and et al,
              "How to Deal with Workplace Bullying and Harassment",
              Deal-with-Workplace-Bullying-and-Harassment, .

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Appendix A.  Acknowledgements

   This draft was prompted by the organizational change, signaled with
   the IESG's adoption of an anti-harassment policy for the IETF, and a
   number of follow-on activities and discussions that ensued.  A few
   individuals have offered thoughtful comments, during private

Authors' Addresses

   Dave Crocker
   Brandenburg InternetWorking
   675 Spruce Drive
   Sunnyvale, CA  94086

   Phone: +1.408.246.8253

   Narelle Clark
   Pavonis Consulting
   C/- PO Box 1705
   North Sydney, NSW  2059

   Phone: +61 412297043

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