Cool culture, bro
I’ve worked in places where I’ve been forced to wear a skirt; where I’ve only been allowed a break if I smoked; and where important feedback was repeatedly ignored.
How did these things happen? Because the culture within these companies let it.
Susan Fowler’s blog about Uber’s ‘bro culture’ this February raised some serious questions about the culture the tech sector is fostering – and it’s a growing concern for companies.
Just this week it was announced that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is taking an indefinite leave of absence, alongside news one of its board members has stepped down after making sexist remarks.
It would be easy to dismiss the problem as one that only affects women and billion dollar mega-corps.
Unfortunately, that assumption cuts straight to the heart of what seems to have gone wrong in the industry.
On Monday Liverpool Girl Geeks hosted an event on company culture, which is broadly defined as a set of shared beliefs or assumptions that’s created by a company, which then influences the behaviour of those who work there.
In the case of Uber, Fowler alleged that her complaints about discrimination were repeatedly ignored because of a mentality created by the management.
So what can businesses do to make sure they aren’t creating an unhealthy culture?
Deborah Chapman, head of reward, pensions and diversity at Shop Direct, told the audience on Monday that it’s vital to anchor everything the company does in its values.
“If you line everything up to them then you get positive behaviour because everyone understands the culture,” she said.
This will then filter through to the interview process and help hire people who believe the same things said Jane Fitzmaurice, who is resource partner at Auto Trader.
“Diversity and inclusion sessions are now embedded within our recruitment process and it’s made a huge change in culture,” she said.
What was great about Jane’s point was that the emphasis was on learning rather than shaming.
“When we first looked at diversity and inclusion training we did sessions where people were asking ‘oh my God, am I a misogynistic pig?’ We said ‘no you’re not!’
“You can only get to a place of understanding if you explore in an environment where people are comfortable talking openly.”
One really positive outcome of this is that Auto Trader is now more representative of its employees.
For example, the company is planning a party for Eid, after realising that not everyone wanted to celebrate Christmas.
This all boils down to one extremely obvious point.
“It’s important to ask people what they want,” said Keith Price, brand manager at The Lead Agency.
Despite being obvious, clearly it’s something that companies often forget to do.
It was also great to see a guy on a panel that was hosted by a women in tech group. Although women need to lead the discussion, if we don’t get men involved too then achieving this culture change is going to be much harder.
Ultimately, it’s easy for even the most well-meaning managers to sit down and decide what’s best for their team but unless you actually ask the people in that team then there’s very little point.
Mando account manager Leyla Kee-McParlin took this point to the next logical step when she said that being open and free from fear is key. There’s no point asking people what they want if they’re too scared to tell you the truth.
Whether it’s down to too many bros or too little communication, letting a lop-sided culture run rampant is bad for business, and for the future of the tech sector.