AAPG's New Code of Conduct

If you attended the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Salt Lake City this year, you may have noticed additional signs in the hallways and slides shown in the opening and technical sessions that introduced the AAPG Code of Conduct. It’s a new element for ACE and it’s something we care about in our desire to foster an environment that allows our attendees to best realize their professional goals. This month I’d like to share with you how it came to be, and more importantly, why.

Watching the news coverage in recent years has been unsettling, with accusations leveled against multiple prominent men, in positions of power, about their egregious behavior toward women. Some of them were charged with criminal behavior and convicted, others are still under investigation or quietly slipped from public view.

These cases made headlines because the individuals involved were prominent people. But there were also disturbing reports of misconduct in the geosciences.

In October of last year, the journal Science published an article about allegations of sexual harassment leveled against a prominent geoscientist by some of his former graduate students. As I talked to my colleagues in other scientific organizations, they revealed that they, too, were grappling with these issues.

Why the Code Is Needed

Still, I must confess, I didn’t think we – AAPG – had a problem like this.

After all, we’re a professional association. We exist to advance the science and profession of petroleum geology. Many of our members work in companies with strict policies on conduct and against harassment. AAPG itself has such policies that articulate our expectations of our employees, as well as our expectations of those who interact with our employees. Surely, we know how to behave professionally.

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If you attended the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Salt Lake City this year, you may have noticed additional signs in the hallways and slides shown in the opening and technical sessions that introduced the AAPG Code of Conduct. It’s a new element for ACE and it’s something we care about in our desire to foster an environment that allows our attendees to best realize their professional goals. This month I’d like to share with you how it came to be, and more importantly, why.

Watching the news coverage in recent years has been unsettling, with accusations leveled against multiple prominent men, in positions of power, about their egregious behavior toward women. Some of them were charged with criminal behavior and convicted, others are still under investigation or quietly slipped from public view.

These cases made headlines because the individuals involved were prominent people. But there were also disturbing reports of misconduct in the geosciences.

In October of last year, the journal Science published an article about allegations of sexual harassment leveled against a prominent geoscientist by some of his former graduate students. As I talked to my colleagues in other scientific organizations, they revealed that they, too, were grappling with these issues.

Why the Code Is Needed

Still, I must confess, I didn’t think we – AAPG – had a problem like this.

After all, we’re a professional association. We exist to advance the science and profession of petroleum geology. Many of our members work in companies with strict policies on conduct and against harassment. AAPG itself has such policies that articulate our expectations of our employees, as well as our expectations of those who interact with our employees. Surely, we know how to behave professionally.

It turns out I was being naïve.

The day after ACE 2017 – our centennial celebration – I received a report that one of our members, an early career professional, was the subject of an unwelcome advance at the headquarters hotel. The action wasn’t criminal, but it was unsettling and caused offense for the recipient and was clearly unprofessional.

The challenge in addressing this issue was that we had no clear policies governing these types of situations involving members or attendees at our events.

Since its inception, AAPG has emphasized the importance of ethics. In fact, our code of ethics is enshrined in the Association’s constitution. But it’s principally concerned with the ethical practice of petroleum geology. And, it’s one of the reasons that AAPG was formed – to hold ourselves and each other to certain ethical standards and communicate those standards to the public.

But the code of ethics and its enforcement mechanisms seemed ill-fitting for this type of issue and for other forms of harassment and unprofessional conduct. We needed something more.

“AAPG is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form,” the Code of Conduct begins.

It goes on to describe types of behavior to be avoided and encouraged, and warns that violations of the code will result in AAPG taking the actions it deems appropriate given the circumstances.

Implementation So Far

We’ve provided several mechanisms for conference participants who are made to feel unsafe or unwelcome by reporting it to an AAPG Executive Committee or Convention staff member, reporting it anonymously via an online form, and finally by calling a toll-free number. You can find the code simply by searching “AAPG Code of Conduct” online.

After unveiling the Code of Conduct at ACE in Salt Lake City we received two anonymous online complaints about the same issue, namely the use of a racially-insensitive slide and accompanying remarks in a technical talk. The reporters indicated that it was inappropriate and could easily offend. After reviewing the slide, we agreed, and AAPG is following up directly with the author/speaker about the issue.

This Code of Conduct is a work in progress. We’re learning as we get more information through its implementation and refine the policies behind it. We’re also planning to broaden it to all Association activities.

Feedback we’ve received has been positive. But, I fully expect to hear some grumbles that “We haven’t needed this for a century – why now?”

I think there are two reasons: First, societal expectations and norms have changed and the Association must change to accommodate them. Second, the purpose of AAPG is twofold: to advance the science of petroleum geology and to promote the business of finding and developing this vital natural resource.

When we gather together as petroleum geologists we’re looking to do those two things. And I’m hard-pressed to understand how the Code of Conduct undermines either. We don’t need rules for their own sake, but we can use rules to accomplish these objectives.

Mutual respect, careful communication and professional conduct help us get there. They’re how we attract the next generation of petroleum geoscientists into our science and industry.

We have a job to do. The world may not appreciate its importance, but they’re wholly reliant on our success for energy and their way of life. That’s our purpose.

Let’s hold our purpose in mind when we get together. Let’s hold ourselves and each other to a higher standard, as our founders intended. Let’s honor and respect each other in word and deed. Let’s do our jobs well.

Comments (4)

Thanks for talking about this hard subject
Thanks David for bringing issue to light Sasha
8/21/2018 9:22:24 AM
Code of Conduct
Only one explanation needed - it's the right thing to do! Bravo for AAPG, and nice column, David. Thank you for putting us squarely on the right side of history with respect to this issue.
8/15/2018 10:12:06 AM
New Code of Conduct
It is sad to learn about a few of our members inappropriate conduct. As AAPG members, we all have the responsibility to report any code of ethics violations so that they may be investigated. The updated Code of Conduct will insure that AAPG remains a well-respected professional international organization. I was also pleased to see the Code of Conduct, including the prohibition of photography or recording presentations, printed in the ACE 2018 program book.
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8/15/2018 8:15:19 AM
AAPGs New Code of Conduct
David, Thank you! This is a needed subject of discussion and hopefully action. I started in the Oil and Gas Business in I believe 1968. Yes I am old but that means I have seen a lot over the years. I have observed situations and probably participated in some that are clearly not appropriate behavior by todays standards. To be 'current' in todays world we must be relevant to peoples expectations, all people! Staying out of court is just one aspect of this issue. Tim Brown
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8/14/2018 5:21:02 PM

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