Creating a culture that's comfortable for both men and women starts at the top.
By Kira Makagon (Executive Vice President of Innovation, RingCentral)
Fifty years ago, just 38% of the total population of women in America were employed. Today, more than half of the workforce is female and it is more than common to see women in a broader range of industries and job roles than ever. Yet, as advanced as the workplace has become regarding women, obstacles still exist. Within the technology business, ‘brogrammer’ culture has attracted significant industry and media attention, fueling conversations regarding gender, sexism and equality once again.
While many have been quick to blame individuals, few have put the magnifying glass on people in leadership and examined how their roles directly effect company culture. From the C-level to department heads, at startups and at established companies, everything trickles down from the top. This is where culture resides and it is the first place that gender neutrality and equality begins. Whether its employees within a company, attendees at an industry event, or the media, a market is influenced, and ultimately moved, by its top-level leaders. That’s why change must begin here first.
Focus On Gender-Neutral, Not Just Gender
It isn’t just about creating an environment that’s ‘women friendly’ either. That may seem like the quick fix to make the industry more inclusive of women. The perspective needs to be ‘gender neutral’ -- a new mindset that acknowledges how genders compliment each other, and creates a sustainable working environment where both can thrive. You don’t need to make a bold statement to note it -- great cultures are always led by example first. Lead and train staff without traditional ‘gender specific’ behavior on your own part. Interact, speak and address your teams and peers neutrally and you’ll see that everyone around you will likely do the same.
This doesn’t mean you can never speak about the Super Bowl with the guys in the room, or not compliment a woman on her outfit. There’s actually a benefit to being comfortable and open with the fact that there tends to be gender differences. But try to keep in mind that you’re aiming to create an environment that isn't ‘male’ or ‘female.’ A good rule of thumb: See people as people, as you would those who are of different sizes, shapes, origins, colors or heritages.
Blend Gender When Team Building
Team bonding events are a key part of any good company culture, but as you plan outings, dinners, etc. keep in mind that you’ve got a mix of genders. Opt for gender-neutral ideas that can appeal to both women and men. Take group votes on shared activities. There are likely to be shared interests among the group that is both fun and gender-neutral. These small nuances can play a huge role in establishing an environment that is cohesive and intuitively appealing to both women and men.
While most companies intend to be equal opportunity, a gender-neutral culture takes it beyond this, ensuring that both women and men are exposed to opportunities and new career trajectories, and that both receive equal amounts of guidance along the way. Some companies create this by having employees spend time together learning about each other's work and positions. Host an ‘open house’ afternoon where departments can talk about the work that they do -- it’s a great way to team build, bond and also expose everyone to different areas of the company that may be of interest.
For those at startups, the work to create a company environment for both women and men is much easier than those who may be at a later stage. Teams may have become accustomed to certain ways of doing things, and in some ways, may feel resistant to change. This is where leading by example and doing versus talking plays a big part. You may find that some employees struggle despite nonetheless -- if needed, do not be afraid to talk about it, including squelching any stereotypes you might see or hear.
Hire More Women
Last, changing the ‘brogrammer,’ or any male-centric environment is also about hiring. Look for people who are comfortable working with different types of people, including the opposite sex. It’s also important to hire more women at every level. There are often fewer women the higher up you go within organizations. Look to hire both genders within every level of the business. Not only does this benefit companies for a variety of business reasons, it will help create a more gender-neutral environment from the top down. Make it a point to do this across the company and all of its departments and you’ll start to see change.
Without question, a company focused on one gender or another stands to lose in terms of attracting women (or men), problem solving, innovation and revenue. Both genders bring value and resources to a company. While making the two work together can be a challenge at times, it creates a much richer culture that can ultimately benefit the business.
What else can leaders do to eliminate 'brogrammer' culture?
About the guest blogger: Kira Makagon is a widely respected entrepreneur and expert on enterprise software who has spent the last 30 years building product management programs for a wide array of business applications, including CRM and relational database companies. Currently, she is Executive Vice President of Innovation of RingCentral. Image credit: Clinton Steeds via Flickr.