Stop the toxic ‘bro’ culture!

Nov 22, 2017

Over the last few years EEOC, the US government agency overseeing employee discrimination, resolved 139 lawsuits and filed 86. One quarter of these were on gender and another one third on race.

Companies involved included Wal-Mart, Target, GE, GM, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Wells Fargo, Citi and other large multinationals, not just Uber and other startups you may have read about in the press. In 2017 number of cases initiated by EEOC tripled (vs 2016).

This is America, land of milk and honey, dream of billions, and role model for most others in this world. Why?

In Jerks, and the Startups They Ruin, NY Times talks of the toxic ‘bro’ culture that is funded by venture capitalists, who can see no farther that the potential shiny pot of gold, damn what happens to anyone else. The ideal qualities that institutional investors seek in a startup founders seem to be:

  • Unbridled ambition and greed
  • Abrasive, not merely aggressive and competitive, behavior especially against women and minorities
  • Unwillingness to accept responsibility
  • Lack of ethics and morality and respect for other humans

Unfortunately, as EEOC statistics indicate, this toxic ‘bro’ virus affects mainstream companies as well. Corporate honchos in suits seem as vulnerable to this infection as Silicon Valley adrenalin junkies.  

Entrepreneur’s 10 Signs You’ve Got a Toxic Workplace Culture, Bro talks about how to detect toxic culture in organizations. Many of you may see this in companies you work for, some perhaps polled as the most desirable to work in.

This Forbes article lists statistics of why employees quit. Is this the scene with the nation’s ‘best places to work in’?

How many Susan Fowlers are there who are brave enough to come out of hiding and force a company to fire its leader and reinvent itself?

Most importantly, should EEOC and others affected sue institutional investors and individual leaders to make them pay for the damage they inflict on the company? Is Travis Kalanick paying for his sins? Or. is it the hapless individual shareholders of the company when the corporate institution picks up the bills of lawsuits?

Most blogs on Uber and similar misconducts focus on what the company leadership should have done to avoid the blow out. Some suggestions border on the ridiculous.

  • Companies should have better PR. For what purpose? To spin stories as in Scandal?
  • Boards should have better oversight. How? Boards comprise investors whose greed blinds them. Why would they care about discrimination?
  • Build a positive culture. When abrasion and discrimination are considered positive values, what else do you expect?
  • Companies should limit alcohol budget. This is a peach. What next, provide armored bodysuits to women employees?

Some of the companies being sued have women leaders running them. The argument of male dominance in the C-Suite doesn’t seem to hold up completely. Most companies have women heading Human Resources function, the key department that should be monitoring and correcting this toxicity. It is not millennia-led technology start-ups alone that are toxic. Many of these companies have been around for a long time run by baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Ys.

Why isn’t anyone talking about the obvious? Why isn’t anyone talking about bringing in a culture of morality, ethics and professional conduct in which any misconduct at any level would be punished severely as a zero tolerance policy? Is it because it is too obvious or is it because companies do not even see this as a problem?

Is there a problem with American corporate leadership in its morality and ethics? What can be done to detox the ‘bro’ culture?

  • What if every company board had at least one Ombudsman whose job is corporate governance and conduct and not performance, with powers to receive whistle blower complaints and act on them independently?
  • What if companies coached their management in diversity tolerance and inclusion as they do for performance enhancement and these metrics are used for leadership development?
  • What if leaders and investors held culpable were made to pay for their sins instead of company coffers?
  • What if corporate czars and their investors realized that they are not wearing clothes and added moral, ethical and professional standards of diversity & inclusion to bottom line measurement?

America has led the way in most modern day initiatives. This is an area it cannot afford to fail.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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