Comments on Acceptable Behavior

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Here’s the situation. We’re absolutely falling down as men and professionals. Ladies, feel free to read on and comment, but I’m talking to the guys.

This blog post has been percolating in my mind for quite some time, but a few new stories have brought it to the fore. The most recent was when I heard that, in front of multiple other male MVPs, a female peer was propositioned using language that I wouldn’t condone when speaking to an animal, let alone a peer. And that’s the point, these women are peers. Yes, they happen to be female, but more importantly, they’re our peers.

And you know who I’m most upset with? No, not the individual who acted like a jerk. There’s always a few of those around. No, I’m upset with the MVPs who were present when it occurred and did nothing. Said nothing. Did nothing! Simple question for you lot. Are you men, or are you boys? If you’re men, you don’t let other men talk to your peers that way. Ever. It’s not acceptable. It’s not polite. Most importantly, it’s not professional. If you’re boys, please go home until you’ve decided to grow up.

I get it. We’re all consenting adults (except the boys, who have left) and we all have different levels of tolerance for different types of behavior. I know I’ve personally crossed lines that upset others and I’ve been called out on it (by men, and professionals, acting as such). Sooner or later everyone is going to cross a line somewhere. It happens. What I would expect is that we will stand up, like men, like professionals, and hold that person accountable for their actions. Then that person can adjust their behavior appropriately, issuing apologies as needed. And women aren’t gentle flowers that need protecting. Far from it. However, they are peers. They are our equals (probably, based on behaviors noted, superior to some of you). They should absolutely be treated like it.

I also understand that we’re going to be in places where alcohol may be consumed, and to excess (guilty again). This lowers inhibitions and changes behaviors. Once more, we’re all adults and if you don’t want to be around this behavior, don’t go. But once more, it’s entirely possible to go through your alcohol consumption without turning into a raging jerk. And, if someone turns into a raging jerk, the rest of us have to be ready to intervene when it’s clear it’s necessary. In the case I mention, and in others I’ve heard about, it was necessary.

And yeah, we may go to places intentionally to let our hair down in less than appropriate ways (once more, guilty). Usually these are very clearly marked and announced so you can’t go into them expecting a church social. It won’t be. But, you also can’t go into them acting like a raging jerk.

I was discussing this with others, because of other similar stories that came up, and we decided that the simplest way to explain this is using the Wheaton Law (possibly NSFW), which I had to look up. It’s very similar to the Golden Rule (and yeah, that’s Wikipedia, cope), which I already knew. But I’ve supplied links to both so you can figure it out in case either of these is new to you. I mean come on guys, just because you’re away from your wives and you’re around fun, intelligent, beautiful women (of which we have more than our share in the SQL Server Community) doesn’t mean you start propositioning anything that moves. And if you really must do this, do it with some class and understand that when the lady says no, it ends that line of pursuit.

And don’t think this has gone unnoticed. I’m using the one general scenario because it was pointed out to me that MVPs are evidently not capable of policing themselves. If we don’t do it, it will be done for us and not in ways that any of us are going to appreciate.

I realize this is likely to be an unpopular post. I really don’t care. I’m more than a little ashamed to be associated with people who act that way towards women. Sorry. Don’t like it. Can’t abide it. Something must be said before things have to be done. I actually can’t believe I’ve had to write this down, but I’ve heard too many of these stories to stand quietly by any longer.

Let me reiterate. I’m not saying this because I think women are wilting flowers that need protection. Far from it. I know a few of the ladies from the SQL Family that will remove your family jewels and show you the side of them that you’ve never seen before. It’s not that I think they need protection, no. It’s that I think they shouldn’t have to put up with the jerky behavior. It’s that simple.

Jerks, you’re on notice. There are men, professional men, out there and they’re going to call you out on your behavior. Clean it up now. Guys, don’t let these jerks define us, ever.


  • A couple of quick points so the emails & IMs slow to a trickle. Yes, I know the lady’s name. No, I don’t know the men’s names. No, I’m not going to reveal more of the story beyond what I said here.

  • Marian

    Couldn’t agree more. I also think that dignity, language and pants should be tied together in public. Well done on slapping the jerks publicly.

  • Absolutely. I encountered something like that (no names, no details) at the very first US PASS summit I attended. Did not give me a good impression of the community and certainly made me think twice about attending again.

  • Adam

    As men, we need to reject passivity, act responsibly and be accountable to one another. We also need to lead courageously which goes to Grants comments.

  • Good post Grant, and I’m glad you wrote it. We need to respect each other with our words and our actions. Yes, we have some fun and sometimes the language can be colorful and suggestive, but we all need to be on the lookout for actions that are offensive, by us and others.

  • Well stated. The community needs to rise up and condemn this behavior as it is happening. We should be setting the example of “men in technology” not allowing others to propagate the stereotype of men in the workforce. We can rise to the occasion when someone plagiarizes, how about when jerks cross the line with our female peers. Great post.

  • Like others have already stated, nicely put. I REALLY can’t wrap my head around how this crap is still happening. I think we may need to institute a new rule: “Break Wheaton’s Law, I get to jack your jaw”

  • Thanks everyone. I honestly expected a bit more pushback on this, especially since I’m hardly a saint (and not planning on striking for it any time soon). I too thought the rules were pretty clear and easily understood, but it seems we need a reinforcement session with a few of the less informed.

  • First of all, I agree with you and would speak up in defense. However, I have to ask, would you feel the same way if a fellow MVP spoke to another male MVP in the same fashion? Would you feel the need to speak up in their honor?

    I’m guessing that you would not speak up to defend the honor of another male MVP because you assume that the other peer can take care of himself. If you don’t assume the same of the female peer, are you truly treating them as peers?

    It’s tough to truly treat someone as a peer when our instincts tell us that it’s is our responsibility to protect certain people. Are we crossing a line by defending a peer simply because she is female? If so, it’s a line that I’ll probably step over time and time again.

  • First – couldn’t agree more. As a father of 4 girls I absolutely want them to have a good working environment and work community that they can enjoy safely.

    Second – I don’t know what MS recognizing someone for their community involvement has to do with someone acting professional. Professional is professional and should be expected, full stop. Community should be able to take care of this regardless if there is MVP present or 2 or none. There are people that have voluntarily given up their MVP status as well as people that are doing enough to be MVPs that aren’t for whatever reason.

    So while you were referencing a specific situation I feel your call for responsibility and accountability should be for EVERYONE to up their game, MVP or not and go to the next level of professionalism. Whether on forums, twitter or in person – if it’s public it should be prodessional and safe first! Then we can focus on showing why the SQL community is the best community.

    Again though great post and call to action!

  • Okay, I’ll push back…a bit.

    I think the difficult part in dealing with this behaviour is that context is really important. I’ve been part of discussions in quasi-public at events where an outsider might see it as derogatory, harassing or even just vulgar. I’m part of those discussions because 100% of time, they are based on some ongoing joke or are sarcastic extensions of other memes. It’s unfair to the observer because they don’t have the context and may be legitimately be offended by the conversation because they might assume I’m under attack.

    It is odd for people to hear other people tell me “Sorry, I’m married”. But I find that hilarious because it’s based on a not-so-happy experience I had at another event. I guess I feel vindicated when people mock that other guy. Because he was an idiot.

    What we should do is remember that in locations where the make up of the group is people not in on the joke that we might be doing harm, unintentionally.

    But all this supports your call to action, Grant. People (not just men) should call out bad behaviour. And give the people engaging in it a chance to rectify any misunderstanding, first. I’m not saying that this what happened here. I figure you have lots of context for most of us.

    I recently attended an event where I started to get more and more uneasy in a conversation with someone who I had never met before. I was sort of physically trapped in a booth and other attendees had moved away. I tried to get others’ attention, but couldn’t. I finally got blunt with the guy and when that didn’t work, I forced my way out of the situation. I was not happy and I did tell other people about it so that I could get their help if I needed it later. But I’m a bit more assertive than other women. I think next time I’ll just give some friends an actual shout out for help. It’s sad that women in fear will actually worry about offending their opponent. Even for chicks like me.

    So I’m not really pushing back…just hoping that people remember that not lines are in the same place. That makes it difficult for everyone.

  • Hey Robert,

    Excellent point and not something that occurred to me when I was writing this up. But you know what, yeah, based on what was said, I’d call out a guy on that too. It wasn’t a little over the line. It was a LOT over the line.

    I know I wasn’t clear on this, although I tried. I’m not trying to defend women’s honor. I’m trying to reduce or mitigate the utter BS coming from certain areas that is clearly not being defined sufficiently as BS by those standing by.

  • Shelly Noll


    Although I find the SQL community to be welcoming and tolerant in general, I have a hard time imagining a scenario where a male MVP makes crude and unwanted sexual advances towards another male and NO spectators comment on it in any fashion. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the first fellow will be ostracized pretty quickly for violating social norms in that manner. I see no reason why the sex of the target should have any bearing on the response of the bystanders.

  • Karen,

    Agreed on all points. I feel like I’m dancing on a string here because I’m hardly the best behaved individual on the planet. But there is badly behaved and there is harassment (or worse). I’m trying hard to avoid critizing simple bad behavior (mainly ’cause I’d be first in line for the whipping) which many of us enthusiastically engage in while still pointing out that we can do that without violating Wheaton’s Law.

  • I just want to add to the “+1″s here. We are adults and should act as adults, not college frat boys or high school students. None of us are innocent, we make mistakes, and we just need to make use of our common sense to police ourselves.

    And, when we do screw up (because it happens), be upstanding enough to own your mistake, apologize, and don’t let it happen again.

  • Grant is correct – and it’s not a “woman needing protection” thing at all. Consider:

    You’re the only male in a room full of women. Or, the only gay in a room of straights. Or any minority in the room at the moment. You’re group “A”, everyone else (or most of them) are group “B”.

    Someone from group B says something about group A that isn’t appropriate.

    You can:

    1. Fight it out verbally person-to-person
    2. Ignore it
    3. Have several folks from group B say “Hey – that’s inapropriate – and the rest of us don’t agree with that.”

    Me? I can handle myself just fine. I’ve been the victim of lots of racial attacks. But when response number three happens – I’m impressed with group B.

    So Grant isn’t picking out the male/female thing – he’s helping the MVP’s. Folks, if you don’t watch your behaviour, we’ll pull that MVP quicker than you can think.

    “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” -Martin Luther King

  • Thanks for stepping up, Grant. I don’t know any specifics, but it doesn’t matter – always stand up for what’s right.
    Personally, I like Jorge’s solution. My name is in the hat as a closer for that method 🙂

  • Grant I want to just say a huge WELL DONE in calling this out. I have personally been horrified of late with some of the behaviour I’ve been observing from the self proclaimed “SQL Community” to such an extent that I have recently mentioned to a few people that I am seriously contemplating withdrawing from that social public circle and becoming more part of the real SQL community again -the people there purely to learn.

    I am far from a shrinking violet, and enjoy a good time myself but when Presenters and MVPs alike start to believe their own hype and start to impose themselves in a very obnoxiuous manner causing offence to others is one step too far. I know that I am a very long way from being perfect and like so many others have over my life have done or said things that now makes me wince with shame. The point is that I care about my behaviour, I am work in progress and am always looking at ways I could have managed situations better. Conversely I suspect that the people this post is aimed at really couldn’t care less and it is about time that they start realise that they should.

  • Anne Hills

    In sql socializing I’ve found that people really want to be accepted, most especially by a group of talented successful people that they aspire to join. That means they will tend to match behaviors with the leaders, and in the sql world the leaders are MVPs, so Grant is addressing the correct group. MVP behavior sets the tone. The only way the generally accepted norms of the group will be reined in a bit is if Buck’s Option 3 happens – admired members of the group call the bad players out on their over-the-line-stepping behavior when it happens. Go Grant!

    I think if what everyone in the sql community wants is a friendly group of professionals, then perhaps the leaders can alter arrangements just a bit to the after parties and social situations to encourage that, and avoid some drunken or otherwise unwelcomed extremism.

  • Kevin Kline

    Thank you, Grant, for standing up for what’s right. I wish I knew the backstory on this. But as you mention, I’ve seen a rising trend lately of major breaches in MVP behavior and ethics.

    As a father to six girls, I know that they’d struggle in a situation like that, feeling confused and somehow ashamed. As Karen says, context is important. And as you state, few among us aren’t at least occasionally laughing too loud, drinking too much, or being a bit too course. But there’s a big difference in horseplay and intentional disrespect.

    Well said, my friend. Well said.

  • Mala

    Grant, congratulations on taking a stance on something you believe in. I don’t believe it is a gender thing. Ok maybe harassment is more of a male thing than a female thing statistically but i would stop with just that. And I don’t agree necessarily with you that bad behavior is ‘better’ somehow than harassment – I think bad behavior in general even if not directed at anyone personally is a huge turnoff. I have attended tons of conferences,the #1 turnoff for healthy networking is simply bad behavior. And women behave as badly as men, sometimes more. People get drunk and misbehave, anyone going to a party with booze should know that. But not everywhere else. And particularly not at the cost of getting people to leave. Unfortunately a lot of that happens particularly in conferences, and in organized socials/get-togethers. People getting into cliques, engaging in loud,very personal conversations and leaving all the others out is a fairly common thing wherever a social happens.In many cases the center of such conversations is a woman, not a man. And in most cases the ‘rest’ of the group just leaves.I follow Buck’s rule #2, i leave when i even see cliques forming. For bad behavior I’d make an appeal for ‘inclusivity’. Consider moderation of behavior if you want people to feel included. Do what you like in small intimate gatherings of close friends. For harassment – never expect to be saved (that expectation again is more from women than men). Tell them off if you think it will work (sometimes people are willing to back you up if you take a stance but otherwise they are unsure if you are part of it or not), or walk out, that is all. And always use your intuition when it comes to belonging, whether or not you will be comfortable with these people. I don’t go if I don’t feel comfortable or know atleast one person in a crowd really well.Some people can take more risks this way but to me it is not worth it. Intuition and sensitivity might cause some networking losses but always help with what i call ‘soul gains’ :))

  • Shelly,

    I would hope people would speak up if it was a guy being treated inappropriately. I can speak from experience that it’s not always the case. From my experience, I would say that it would be more likely that a straight man in a group would be harrassing a perceived (real or not) gay man by himself.

    But no matter who is harrassing who, I would hope that people would stick up for others.

  • I think it is pretty sad that this kind of stuff still goes on. I thought most guys learned how to behave themselves back in the early-mid 1990s.

    It is bad enough that women are typically outnumbered at least 50 to 1 at most technical events, but to have people harrasing them is beyond the pale.

  • Michael Wells

    Grant, thanks for writing this post.

    Like most everybody else, I agree with what you’ve said, but I think that it should be taken a step further to cover any type of mistreatment of any individual. We are all members of this community and through our actions, and inactions, we determine what is acceptable within the community. I’m no saint either. We all make mistakes; that’s just part of being human. What makes us professional is how we respond once those mistakes have been made, by us or by those around us. I don’t think it’s any different from a mistake made at work. I’m sure all of us have done something wrong at one point or another, like dropped the wrong table, or run a delete with a bad where clause, you get the point. When the mistake was realized, did you accept responsibility, apologize, and attempt to make it right? Why should things be any different outside of work? If you see something that is inappropriate, then point it out to the person that is doing it. Give them the chance to identify the mistake and correct it. I have been a part of this community for a number of years and I truly feel that most of us want to do the right thing; we just may not immediately realize the mistake.

  • Brandon Leach

    Grant, regardless of how well behaved you are generally, you seem to know where to draw the line based on setting and who is present.

    With my wife and our friends, we are probably even less behaved than you. There are certain things that we might say to friends in private that we never say to them in a public setting. In a public setting they would be totally unacceptable in my opinion whereas in private we are more free to joke around.

    Even among close friends one still needs to understand the boundries pertaining to the current situation.

  • Elaine

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I’m a Senior SQL Developer with 15 years experience and I have been exposed to and witnessed various harrassment scenarios over the years. (I am only making remarks specific to women but I realize that anyone can be harrassed.) Sadly, even though women “say” they don’t need protection, it’s often the ones who have survived and succeeded in the IT world who are saying it, the strong ones. The ones we don’t hear from, are the ones who got trampled on in their first or second bad experience, gave up and pursued a more amenable career path. And there are those women in IT who have simply been beaten down by it, and as a result have stagnant IT careers. For me, I have learned, figured it out, I know how to steer away from trouble without it impacting my career negatively. And I still can enjoy my peers. I really do think we can all enjoy each other’s company (lunches, business trips, holiday parties) much more if YOU GUYs police yourselves as this article suggests so we ladies don’t have to… We have enough people in our lives to take care of.. Growing up isn’t really so bad…

  • Doug

    Thank you for your post Grant. I couldn’t agree more. The men in our world are acting more and more like boys, and it’s time they grow up, defend what’s right and denounce what’s wrong. We’ve gone too far down the path of the “don’t judge” mentality that we are now defending an “anything goes” mentality, which brings about the behavior of sitting by and watching other people being treated inappropriately. Thanks again.

  • Kate

    Thank you!

    I’m perfectly ok with most lewd comments and converstaions and usually I’ll leave when one occurs that I don’t like. If the proposition was declined and then continued, you’re right, that’s just boyish immature behavior.

    I will also say that the men I work with spoil their female peers. They’re always opening doors, letting the women go first in lines, into and out of the elevator, closing car doors, etc. I thank them every time, but I’m gonna get used to it someday and my husband (who doesn’t do these things) might get an earful. LOL I’m glad to see that chivalry isn’t dead and hope your post brings it back to life at least little more. It’s in no way necessary, but noted and appreciated each and every time.

  • Mala

    Elaine, i am one of those former ‘down trodden’.I worked at an IT company overseas where the CIO was blatantly into sexual abuse and exploitation of his women employees. There were no laws forbidding him, and if you spoke up you were fired. Needless to say I left and during my exit interview i spoke up against him. The HR response was typical ‘you are the only person who has had this experience, if other women complain we will take action’. Nobody did. They were afraid for their jobs although there were plenty of jobs available. Many actually enjoyed the CIO’s attention. I have myself tried to rescue many women like this and felt burnt – they don’t want you to interfere and in an odd way even like what is going on.It may be possible but I find it a little hard to believe a woman in the USA is a complete victim with an audience of MVPs. Now if she is appealing for help and nobody responds that is a different story, but I would leave a sliver of doubt otherwise that she may not be expecting even to be rescued. What it says about the behavior of those men is definitely not credible but this is not quite a helpless victim scenario and there are many gray areas.

  • Brandon Leach

    Elaine and Mala, As I gent, I think part of the problem is this idea that every woman is a damsel in distress. We need to think of each other as fellow professionals and stop focusing on the gender aspect.

    Regardless of gender when someone says “No” that should be the end of it. If the person persists its the responsibility of those around to step in and let the offender clearly know that the behavior is not acceptable.

    I think it’s situations like the one Grant has described that keep the number of women in IT down. Most places I’ve worked only have one or two women in the IT department. At my current job its surprisingly closer to 50%. We open doors for each other without regard to gender. it doesn’t matter if your male, female, or somewhere in the middle, you are treated with respect and part of the discussion.

  • G Bryant McClellan

    Kudos to Grant for having the wherewithal to post this. You know, my feeling is that if there are some who don’t like the post they are free to read somewhere else. As for the rest of us we should be thankful Grant showed the respect he did with what he did write. I suspect there was something seething at a deeper layer that Grant managed to contain. Yet another example of the professionalism we should all be practicing, no matter what our primitive mid-brain may be thinking.

    And Kate, I was taught to open doors and the like by both of my parents. It was never thought of or considered to be a sexist thing in the 60’s. Rather it was beyond gentlemanly…it was the honorable thing to do. I still get surprised looks. I can tell you appreciate it. But I can also say I was NEVER lead to believe that this was done because women were flowers to be protected. I was simply taught that this is what is done between members of polite society. And, yes, I open doors for my wife.

  • David

    I’m curious about the ‘MVP’ aspect of the story. In my admittedly limited experience, I have found most of the mvp’s I’ve had contact with to be very knowledgeable about sql server, but entirely unimpressive as adults. You tell the story as if technical accomplishment (the MVP status) somehow implies maturity and social skills. I have seldom met someone with both, although I can think of a few.

  • And we just hit the point that made me nervous about mentioning that MVPs were involved.

    People, I only mentioned it because there’s a double issue with MVPs. Not only should we be working within the code of conduct of good human beings, but we sign on to a code of conduct with the program. So I brought it up.

    You know what? Doesn’t change a thing. I’m talking about people’s behavior, not MVPs behavior. Please, this is not an invitation to go on an a “bash the MVPs” jaunt.

    Is there an MVP or two with less than savory interpersonal skills? Yep. But I’d be willing to bet pretty solidly that it’s a fairly even distribution to the rest of the IT community. In fact, I suspect MVPs, which, let’s remember, have received a technical AND community award, are probably a little better on the whole at interpersonal stuff than the average IT person, as evidenced by their ability to help others within a community setting.

    Look, I’m sorry I mentioned MVPs. Ignore that. The issue remains. Let’s focus there.

    Oh, and for what it’s worth, I can find large numbers of examples of non-MVP IT pros behaving much worse than my initial 2nd hand story. Please, let’s just leave that bit alone.

  • Brandon Leach

    Grant: I agree that just distracts from the point of your post. In a way the talk of gender biases it as well. Simply put we need to treat others regardless of title, status, gender, or skill with the same level of respect that we ourselves want.

    Instead of pointing fingers lets look at ways to educate others and bring back that respect.

  • Grant,

    Kudos for bringing up this important topic in the open. It is heartning to see all the comments from members of our SQL Server Community. This issue gets amplified as the number of touch points among community members increases. Talking about this issue openly and building greater awareness is the best way to counter and hopefully eradicate this behavior. It is certainly hard to pull up and correct a friend or collegue for bad behavior, but if we don’t do it, we are as guilty.

  • Rick O

    Hey Grant

    I didn’t read the whole article nor the comments but know where this is going. IT is definitely a good ole’ boy network. I have female friends I know would be great managers, team leads etc. I don’t see them moving up. I have in the past and now work with guys that look down on females. Its everywhere. The person I respect the most that I’ve worked with is female. I get more items approved for procurement quicker through a female manager. It really is pathetic amounts a crowd that’s supposed to be intelligent. I would prefer to be surrounded by the best not just those that use the men’s room. Because we are intelligent and logical, this shouldn’t be an issue.

    OK I read the rest and most of the comments. As I tell my daughters, when as @ss acts up like this either with your friends move to another location to continue your conversation and company as jerks usually won’t leave. Its their personality needed to be anchored in the group. Or, just point at the idiot and laugh at him/her and continue your conversation as if they are not there. They may leave else revert to plan A. You can’t let them have the attention they desire.

    We should all stand up for each other. We’re professionals that are supposed to have higher standards and qualities. Drinking and having fun is one thing. Being ugly to others is another and it shouldn’t be tolerated. Separating those individuals from the group may or may not get the point across to them. Hopefully it will turn into an apology and lesson learned.

  • David Hawthorne

    The third paragraph referencing the indifference of developers is something I could not agree more as I deal with people in the organization I work at. Nothing stinks more then going on vacation and nothing getting done when all they had to do was change one value in a stored procedure. I am forwarding this to a co-worker who could take a lesson or two from your article. Too often in testing the immature devs are guilty of exactly what you reference. My applause to you and your article for saying what we wish we had the guts to say.

  • John

    Well said. Someone needs to stand up because so few do. I just heard from a friend of mine who recently changed jobs and was asked out by a married co-worker. She politely declined stating he was married and he pulled a huge attitude on her and refused to work with her for a couple of months. First of all, don’t date your co-workers. It’s just a bad idea. Second, don’t be a jerk when they did nothing wrong. It makes the rest of us look bad.

OK, fine, but what do you think?