Shut It Down, Bro: How to Avoid Toxic Culture at Your Company
Following a series of scathing exposes from employees at Google, Uber and many more companies, "bro culture" took the hot seat last year. The companies at the center of the conversation were, by and large, tech-based organizations where men (literally and figuratively) dominated entire workforce. Most recently, the women of Hollywood proclaimed with the highly publicized #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns that they would be silenced no more and harassment would not be tolerated. But, if everyone recognizes genuine disparity within these industries, why is it that the problem persists without a sweeping overhaul?
Bro culture has only been discussed as an epidemic affecting certain industries instead of an industry-blind, culture-killing pandemic. This significantly narrows the scope of business leaders who feel the need to take a good, hard look for cracks in their company foundations. In many cases, major overhaul of fundamental principles is the antidote for correcting long-lasting problems. Allowing your company to be marred by an exclusionary culture "scarlet letter" is not only damaging, it could spell doom down the line.
Here are actionable steps that every business leader can take now, not when it's convenient, to ensure an inclusive, positive company culture runs through their organizations.
Own your company culture from Day One.
Manifesting a healthy company culture requires a top-down approach. Inequality in the workplace is everyone's problem, but it's the charge of leadership to define standards of what good company culture is and isn't for every employee. It's in the interest of management to guarantee a comfortable work environment for all employees so people from all walks of life can work productively and harmoniously together.
Starting off, many companies practice what I like to call "calculated recklessness" -- cutting corners to get a competitive edge while trying to get your name out there. But if you try to cut corners and don't define company culture from Day One, your company will gain notoriety for all the wrong reasons. Making healthy culture a company cornerstone from Day One is the only way to create something lasting that will leave the impact and legacy you truly desire.
Accountability starts with open lines of communication.
When building something from the ground up, hours are long, deadlines creep up and projects pile on, causing tensions to run high. A silent office is not an office without corporate culture issues. I always say, people leave managers and teams, not companies. Showing genuine concern for individuals keeps them engaged and nurtured so they feel their investment is matched by their manager, as well as their company. Open lines of communication are only productive if everyone within a team, including managers, feels comfortable enough to participate. Regular check-ins also provide opportunity to proactively address challenges that truly matter to individual employees.
This also means managers have to be ready, and willing, to hear constructive feedback. To keep this sentiment from the bottom to the top, we schedule weekly one-on-ones between team members and managers to keep communication open and ensure employees have a firm grasp on ever-evolving company expectations and best practices.
Be conscious of normalization in your workplace.
Normalization describes the effect of the expected and the ideal blending together to form a new perspective in a certain group of individuals, in this case, a workplace. What is "normal" in your office is not always in line with what is conventional, or what should be accepted as good company culture. Company culture needs to be constantly re-evaluated, and if the principles you founded your company on no longer serve your employees, change them.
The dangers of normalization in the workplace create echo chambers where everyone becomes so used to the standard operating procedures that small infractions go unnoticed and unaddressed. Managers need to not only allow but also encourage their employees to voice their concerns about company practices, especially when not in line with their moral code. At the end of the day, it costs far less time and fewer resources to solve problems in real time than to replace employees who left because concerns raised about company culture infractions fell on deaf ears.
It's not too late for your company.
Creating diverse and dynamic teams is priority No. 1 for any business leader focused on innovation and positive growth. High-quality people know that life's too short to dedicate time to a company that isn't aligned with their personal values and won't hesitate to leave. By throwing up your hands and declaring it's too late for your company to evolve and create a better company culture for your employees, you become complicit in toxic culture, and it will inevitably lead to your downfall.
Starting from the top down, business leaders of companies -- large and small, spanning every industry -- can only benefit from holding themselves accountable, revisiting the foundations of corporate culture and ensuring an even playing field for all employees where every voice is heard.