Bro Culture Is Holding Women Back: Here’s How Leaders Can Fix It.

Bro Culture Is Holding Women Back: Here’s How Leaders Can Fix It.

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“Are you a jerk?” That’s the (slightly modified), first question asked to interviewees by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Uber CEO Travis Kalanick at the start of Showtime’s “Super Pumped,” a fictionalized chronicling of the rise and fall of the ride-share pioneer.

It’s a question whose answer isn’t revealed right away, interrupted instead by a series of startup fires that demand extinguishing: regulatory battles, scheming for more capital, and ensuring the upcoming party is, in fact, sufficiently awesome. By episode’s end, with all fires out, the hopeful applicant gets a chance to give his response, though by now, we already know the correct answer.

Bro cultures like these are unfortunately more fact than fiction for women in tech today. Loosely defined, bro cultures are found in companies founded and led almost exclusively by men, often with little experience, who possess more bravado than business sense and foster environments that encourage (and reward) hyper-masculine behavior in the pursuit of growth — no matter the cost.

You know it when you see it, yet despite grabbing headlines for over a decade, the tech industry continues to grapple with its bro stigma, creating uncomfortable and, at times, hostile work environments for women.

Culture and career challenges

At its most basic level, bro cultures place women at a significant disadvantage. The career ladder is more akin to an escalator in reverse, where double the effort is required to reach the same height. Indeed, 78 percent of women in tech said they felt they had to work harder than their male coworkers to prove their worth, and were four times more likely than men to see gender discrimination as a barrier to promotion.

The day-to-day realities of working within a bro culture are equally challenging, and in some cases, traumatizing. Twenty-five percent of women in tech said they get talked over in meetings and 44 percent of women founders reported incidents of harassment.

That’s not an environment conducive to doing one’s best work, which can, in turn, further fuel perceptions of bias among higher-ups when it comes to evaluating female candidates and their work.

Pay and promotions lag behind

Bro cultures begin at the top, which means those responsible for setting pay rates likely occupy the inner circle. It’s no surprise then, that women in tech are paid less on average than men for similar work. One study found that women made $62,000 a year compared to $91,000 for men. Another, at the entry-level, found that female computer science graduates earned an average pay of $79,223, while men earned $82,159.

It’s a difficult problem to solve organically, considering that women face additional barriers to taking on the kind of leadership roles that could rectify pay disparity. McKinsey found that only 52 women were promoted to manager for every 100 men in tech — significantly worse than the rate for all other professions

Pipeline problems

Taken together, these barriers could pose problems for the future talent pipeline — in many cases, they already are.

Despite comprising the majority of college graduates, women account for only 18 percent of computer science degrees — a number which has trended considerable downward overtime. In 1987, for instance, that number was as high as 37 percent. It’s even more puzzling considering that, today, women are earning more STEM degrees in general than ever, placing the spotlight directly on tech as an outlying problem area.

Even worse, the few women who are acquiring those degrees today are electing not to pursue a career in tech. Only 38 percent of women who majored in computer science are working in the field, compared to 58 percent of men.

Solutions for the future

While some tech companies have started taking steps to improve diversity and inclusion, there is still much more work to be done.

Employers who are serious about addressing bro culture should look to appointing someone to a full-time position or hiring a consultant who can review company policies and practices with a fresh set of eyes. Culture problems are often so engrained in the status quo that it can be hard for individuals on the inside to identify them.

Executives should also look to promote women and others from underrepresented groups in their workforce to key leadership positions to set the tone at the top. Then, make a conscious effort to make more diverse and inclusive hires.

As female employees wait for these and other changes to take root, other options may soon be on the horizon. While there are still few women-founded tech companies, women VC executives are on the rise, especially in tech hotspots like Silicon Valley and New York, the latter of which, experienced a five percent increase in just one year. As the trend continues, expect more opportunities to apply and work for female-founded companies as an alternative

Considering how engrained bro cultures are throughout tech, the challenge of eradicating them can feel overwhelming. But if employers take a small-step approach to incorporating the recommendations above, true industry-wide change won’t be far behind.

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