I was sitting at a networking luncheon with eight men. I was the only woman, and it was a very odd experience.
Even though none of us knew each other, the guys had an instant camaraderie. I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt uncomfortable other than the fact that I was wearing heels and was still six inches shorter than anyone else there.
Then I read a piece by Ann Friedman in New York magazine about the bro culture in today’s American companies. Friedman talks about Pax Dickinson, Business Insider’s CTO, who was apparently ousted after a tech blog reported that he’d been sharing sexist opinions via Twitter for years. Since people get dinged for stupidly mouthing off on Twitter all the time, that isn’t the story. The news here is that one of Dickinson’s cronies defended him, saying that his friend was a “frequently hilarious performance artist who tweets with a faux-brogrammer alter ego.” (Brogrammer = an IT type belonging to a bro, or frat house-like, culture.)
Bro culture was first mentioned years ago by feminist publications, but it's lately been highlighted everywhere from the U.S. military to the financial sector. According to Friedman, it describes a group that’s dominated by wealthy, white, straight men that maintains its bro-ness by excluding those who are different.
I recently created a course for a large Fortune 500 organization on gender differences. At this company, we noticed that no matter how many talented women the firm hired, few ever seemed to make it in executive management. The women didn’t seem to fit in because they didn’t laugh at the right jokes, didn’t go out for beers after work and simply lacked everything that makes a bro a bro. I know that this company is far from unique in this respect.
Provided you want to appeal to a wide range of people, bro-ness can be just as damaging for your small team or business as it is for larger organizations. After all, if you don’t look and act like your customers, how will they be able to relate to you and why will they want to buy your products and services? Like many situations, the first step here is to admit you have a bro culture and that it may be a problem.
For ideas on how to recognize a bro culture and combat it, check out my advice over at the AMEX Open Forum.