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'Bro culture' and why it's an issue for startups

4 min read | 18 October, 2018 By Sarah Benstead


‘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.

In a survey carried out by the TUC in 2016, 52 per cent of the women surveyed said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. It’s a sad indictment of the continuing existence of ‘bro culture’ in business today.

Business cultures representing young, brash 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 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.

Recent 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.

The baton for change in the UK is firmly in the hands of small and medium sized businesses. According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), small businesses accounted for 99.3% of all private sector businesses in the UK at the start of 2017. The future of better business culture lies in their hands and start-ups would be wise to follow suit.

So, what exactly is ‘bro culture’ and why is it an issue for the UK’s start-ups?

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 largely because they need investment. Unfortunately, many venture capitalists are bros. Last year 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. Stats reported by Recruitment International last year revealed that only 17 per cent of employees in the UK tech sector are female.

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 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 women and it’s bad for society.

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Posted on 18 October, 2018

By Sarah Benstead

in Company Culture

Tag Company Culture

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