The “Bro Culture” + Our Intentions | Women in Tech Coaching Circle Series

Mic Berman

February 6, 2018

Over a year ago we began to hatch ideas to support and impact the imbalance of women in tech. The culture that seemed to be pervasive in high-growth tech was – what the community termed the bro culture. It’s a seeming default based on the overwhelming profile of young men who are funded. In the report A Force to Reckon With: Women, Entrepreneurship and Risk, women are far less likely to get funded because they’re perceived as unwilling to take entrepreneurial risks – in the study female founders received just 3% of total venture capital funding from 2011-2013.  No doubt these mostly well-deserving young men focused first on growing the business and second on culture in most cases through things they enjoyed or related to that represented rights of passage and affirmation or celebrations. These cultures are meant to be fun. What they didn’t realize is that some of the fun behaviour and implicit biases turned into discriminatory practices, take Michael Litt’s recent article I accidentally built a Brogrammer culture.

Then things started to implode. Ellen Pao. The Google Manifesto. Uber harassment. VC members resigning. Research and social based movements like #movethedial and #metoo. We recognized that a ground swell is happening and we have to act NOW.

We were invited to speak and share our thoughts at Girl Geeks TO event ‘Surviving Bro Cultures’ in November 2017. We worked hard on creating an interactive discussion we hoped would resonate with the audience of 100+ brave women and a few brave men. We clearly had hit a nerve. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn were exploding with many women shouting out their feelings at the event and after. And, we wanted to continue this momentum of support!

Our first Coaching Circle event was hosted on Wednesday, January 17. A group of 18 women in tech came together – students, entry level employees, employees with longer tenure, entrepreneurs, etc. – including industries as diverse as real estate, finance, and tech.

Our intention was to create a safe, intimate space where we could support and coach women in tech with transformational tools for difficult situations. We always want participants to walk away feeling heard and to have new resources that they could use right away. So we doubled down on what we spoke about in our initial Girl Geeks TO talk: Know Your Values, Know Your Boundaries.

As ICF certified coaches, when we work one-on-one with clients, it is imperative that we find out what the fundamental values are for whom we work with. Being able to articulate values is one of the best ways to know what you are willing to stand up for, to make decisions, and to figure out what you need to honour your balanced life. When you know what you are willing to stand up for, you can create solid boundaries for how you want to interact with people, and how you want to be treated (among other things).

“We always want women in tech to walk away feeling heard and to have new resources that they could use right away.”

How do you find out what you value? We used an exercise where we asked everyone in the room  “If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?” We debriefed in pairs, and asked deeper questions – what about those qualities of the fruit/vegetable were important? Some were the tough exterior of the okra. Some were the versatility of a blueberry. Some were the sweetness of an orange or the prickliness of a pineapple. We encourage you to do this exercise, either on your own (make sure to not overthink it!) or with a friend, and ask the following questions:

  • What about this is important?
  • What about this quality resonates with you?
  • How does this reflect and/or define who you are?

We then asked participants to think of an example where they felt that they didn’t exhibit their ideal response in a situation at work or school. Where they felt triggered resorting to humour, smile and fake their way through it, or were completely flabbergasted and didn’t know what to say. We facilitated a group discussion where we all shared suggestions on how they would ideally react facing the same situations.

We heard some stories that broke our heart, and left some us extremely upset and frustrated, or even shocked that this still happens in 2018 (by the way, it TOTALLY does). We shared in the pain and although there was a sense of anger in the room, there was also a sense of relief that we were not alone, and that there is strength in numbers!

Here are some of the phrases we discussed to be prepared for a situation where you want to make the person aware of how they impact you with their words. Making sure that whatever you choose is in line with what you value, so you are speaking/acting from a place of integrity and authenticity.  

  • Oh sorry, what did you say? / Can you repeat that? (and continue to ask why and dig deeper so the person realizes that what they’re saying isn’t ok)
  • What does that mean?
  • What’s missing?
  • We’re having a disconnect on facts….can you help me?
  • This makes me feel undervalued?
  • This is inappropriate and if you don’t stop I will be forced to make a formal complaint?
  • Why are you saying this to me? Am I making you uncomfortable?
  • Who hurt you?
  • What’s your problem?
  • Follow up with an article that explains your position better.

We hope that this helps you start to clarify what your values are, and gives you some methods to better manage the conversations or experiences that you may experience. Of course, if the harassing behaviour does not stop, please seek out support – at the minimum a friend, mentor or professional (eg HR, Legal, Coach, etc) that can lean in as you deal with this. The key to having these phrases work is that you practice feeling comfortable before you are in the situation so that you can use the approach when you’re feeling triggered – when you’re ready to fight, flight or freeze.

We continue to want to be of service to the community, so we will be holding these Coaching Circles regularly. Our next event will be this coming Wednesday, February 14: “How to Give Feedback in a Crucial Conversation.” We will teach you a framework to use in any situation you want to give positive or constructive feedback. This can be useful in your work or your personal relationships. We look forward to seeing you there.

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