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'Bro culture' and why it's still an issue

6 min read  |   24 May, 2022   By Sarah Benstead

Lady sitting down and discussing work with a male colleague
    

‘Bro culture’ isn’t a new phenomenon. Since the dawn of capitalism ‘bro culture’ has existed in business.

What is it? While it doesn’t have an exact definition, in business it is instantly recognisable, and in a nutshell describes a culture dominated by over-confident, arrogant, obnoxious men. The gender pay gap and sexual harassment at work cases are proof that it still exists.

A survey by PWC revealed that women are more likely to be ignored by their managers than men. Just 26% of women felt that they could ask for a promotion, compared to 34% of men.

And the lack of inclusivity doesn't stop there. A huge 61% of women of colour reported changing aspects of their personality due to their workplace environment - including the language they use, their hairstyle or topics they talk about. 

It’s a shocking state of affairs - and sad indictment of the continuing existence of the lack of equality and the remaining presence of ‘bro culture’ in business today.

Business cultures representing young, brash, (generally white) hyper-competitive men are particularly common in certain industries (usually in those where women are under-represented). In the Silicon Valley (Google, Uber) ‘bro culture’ is very much alive. In some ways ‘bro culture’ has become synonymous with the tech industry, largely because of the lack of women and diversity in that sector.

You only have to take a look at the big tech players like Google to realise that the routine harassment of women still goes on. Former Google employee, Loretta Lee, says she was subjected to ‘lewd comments, pranks and even physical violence’ on a daily basis between 2008 and 2016.

Media exposure of ‘bro culture’ in big business has made the problem feel worse, but is the growing transparency (a result of the digital age) and whistleblowing (Weinstein and the #MeToo campaign) making it feel worse than it actually is? For sure, the problem is being rooted out. Sadly, it is far from being stamped out.

So, what exactly is ‘bro culture’ and why is it an issue?

 

What exactly is ‘bro culture’?

‘Bro culture’ describes a culture that prioritises young macho men with obnoxious and toxic behaviour above all else. The average ‘bro’ tends to be a hustling guy who places winning and success above respect for others. ‘Bros’ operate in an environment of excessive partying and bullying. Harassment of colleagues is the everyday norm.

Companies with a ‘bro culture’ encourage excessive partying as a motivating tool. Managers scream and yell in a culture of blame and the office is generally a toxic pot of gossip and negative chatter. You get the picture.

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Bro culture values speedy growth

The problem for start-ups is in understanding the benefits of organic growth. Many businesses set out with high hopes of quick success. It’s what ‘bros’ are good at and why start-ups tend to attract and recruit the ‘wrong’ type of employee. Many start-ups get recruitment wrong at the start, employing those they think will bring them the most sales. But, ignoring the brash behaviour that often goes hand-in-hand with soaring sales figures is counter-productive.

‘Bro culture’ is toxic

In our report on The Culture Economy we found that toxic culture is costing the UK economy £23.6 billion per year. And that a third of British workers quit their jobs due to bad workplace culture. ‘Bro culture’ often grows insidiously in start-ups, but will ultimately effect employee retention, productivity and growth.

Start-ups need investors

‘Bro culture’ is an issue for start-ups and fledgling small businesses largely because they need investment. Unfortunately, many venture capitalists are bros. The New York Times ran an article on how ‘bro culture’ is ruining start-ups. “The bro C.E.O. does what you’d expect an immature young man to do when you give him lots of money and surround him with fawning admirers — he creates a culture built on reckless spending and excessive partying.”

Diversity not a priority for start ups

UK technology start-ups have hit an all-time high. It’s a male-dominated sector where, as the US’s Silicon Valley has shown, ‘bro culture’ has a tendency to flourish. It’s no surprise since only one out of five engineering or computer degrees in the UK are being awarded to women. 

Just a quarter of women work in computer-science industries, according to research. Additionally, only a meagre 15% of women of colour hold entry-level positions in tech, compared with 35% of white men

In the US, recent diversity research proved that sadly, managerial and professional roles of the tech industry are still overwhelmingly white and male. It's safe to say that tech remains a hugely underrepresented industry, with lots of work still to do. 

Start-ups may not set out with the intention of creating a toxic workplace, but in recruiting a skewed demographic of men, who perhaps mirror the 'go-getters' who started the company, they are inadvertently reinforcing the ‘bro culture’ cycle.

A lack of focus on HR

Most entrepreneurs start out as a one-person band or in partnership. Recruitment happens when founders are overloaded. Effective HR just isn’t a priority for many start-ups. But, as a result, unconscious gender bias can unwittingly inform recruitment decisions. Without effective HR, bad seeds can quickly grow. It’s almost inevitable when there isn’t a sharp moral compass in operation.

Start-ups are vulnerable to ‘bro culture’ creeping in before they’ve even noticed what is happening. Leaders especially need to take a close look at how they are running their businesses and how they are behaving.

Women in business are fighting back. One successful female entrepreneur writes ‘Thank you sexist injustice … you’ve created a kick-ass breed of business women.’

As for the male fraternity operating on the front line of the tech start-up world, the message quite simply is: if you want lasting success, then you need to grow up. ‘Bro culture’ isn’t good for business. It’s bad for diversity and it’s bad for society.

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