B-R-O Culture


Lisa Ingarfield | @tritodefi

When I asked Facebookland what folks thought bro culture was, it wasn’t long before the flurry of posts and experiences began to stack up. Bro culture, as experienced by the broads (and some men) who shared their thoughts, included: always being passed over for professional development opportunities in favor of sending men, thinly veiled sexist comments, euphemisms for breasts such as “potato salad” or “teeth,” not being taken seriously, frisbee golf, sports bars, toxic masculinity, golf “meetings” that systematically excluded women from decision making, invalidating comments, “cocky boys,” and men taking up way too much space.

A recent piece in the New York Times describes Bro culture as using “the formidable elixirs of power and status to create a toxic social environment . . . characterized by manipulative charm, entitlement and a so-called rules don’t apply attitude’—as well as an inability to express emotion, show remorse or be vulnerable.”

Power and Parties

Bro culture is often seen in working environments dominated by men, or at least with primarily young male leadership. The culture trickles from the top or develops to prioritize the largely (young) male workforce’s needs. The culture can be reckless, amoral, and usually includes “excessive partying.” Toxic masculinity is the norm and women entering the space must either bend to those norms, shrug the behaviors off, or leave. Sexual harassment of women is commonplace in environments steeped in bro culture.

Uber is a great example of bro culture. You may remember earlier in the summer, the CEO took a leave of absence amid controversy of rampant sexual harassment in the organization. Women engineers spoke out about sexual harassment and an HR department unwilling to address their concerns. According to Business Insider as a result of the complaints, (or the more cynical view, perhaps because of the bad publicity), Uber pledged to make changes. An investigation led by former attorney general Eric Holder and Ariana Huffington culminated in the firing of numerous employees. The company then took steps to revamp “its institutional values, prioritizing measures that promote diversity and inclusion, and cleaning up its hard-partying reputation.”

Same Old, Same Old

Bro culture isn’t new, by any means. It exists in conservative work spaces and liberal, progressive work spaces. In fact, women working in progressive settings all complained about how the men dominated the space and silenced their voices, while at the same time congratulating themselves on their progressive attitudes about women and social justice. In my conversation with a former energy industry employee, an industry dominated by men at every level, I learned of an industry golf tournament replete with an open bar and strippers at every hole. In addition to this display of bro culture, the employee had been sexually propositioned, refused professional development opportunities (when men were given them), and not included in opportunities to wine and dine clients. She shared how one company would only hire young attractive women for administrative staff positions and at industry events especially, the old boy’s club and bro culture mentalities were readily on display.

Baseball, Booze, and Boyz

Another industry mired in bro culture is athletics. In talking with a former athletic director, she reflected on how long it took her to gain credibility in her field. For years, her male colleagues dismissed her, assuming she didn’t know anything about sports, or because she didn’t act “male” enough (evidenced in part by whether she would drink beer with them). In her experience, women were never given the opportunity to coach football or baseball, two sports that apparently in a bro culture, can only be taught by men.

As an endurance coach myself, I definitely see the manifestation of bro culture, and the dominance of men and men's ideas. Young “alpha males” who can afford all the gear, possess a high, but also cavalier, opinion of their abilities, and love to drink (lots of) beer after a hard workout and then talk about it, are plentiful in endurance sports. And many of these same men run coaching, training, or endurance sports organizations and are considered leaders in the field. Women are woefully underrepresented in leadership roles in sport and their ideas are often drowned out by the combined wisdom of the C.E.bros.

What’s Next, Brau?

The thing is, organizations with a bro culture problem often don't do well, or they excel initially, and then crash and burn because of reckless management and poor financial acumen. Many of the companies fitting this profile have folded, but even so, we need to do more to disrupt bro culture’s seeds early in our children’s lives. Talking to young boys about how to treat others respectfully, and teaching them girls and women have equal value is an essential foundation. It is also important to encourage boys to develop empathy for others and we must teach them how to express their feelings productively. How do boys talk to each other? And how do they talk about girls in the company of other boys? If you hear disrespectful language, have a conversation with your child about why this isn’t acceptable. There are many resources out there for parents and families to intervene early and hopefully prevent the development of toxic masculinity or other traits that can lead to damaging work environments later in life.

Broads, we have to start young on this one. Let’s not wait to have the conversation when our kids are in college or applying to jobs at the next Uber.

LifestyleVirginia Santy