Thrilled at the prospect of being an early-stage employee in an emerging, volatile, yet exciting industry, my daughter recently joined a small but fast-growing NFT company. I was happy for her, but also somewhat concerned, having heard disturbing stories of invasive “bro culture” behavior in this space. In this case, I needn’t have worried. The young founders of her company prove their commitment to equality in the workplace daily. Unfortunately, when it comes to some Web3 industries, it seems that this is more the exception than the norm.
In the unlikely event that you haven’t heard about bro culture, let me explain. This is essentially a new boys club. A workplace fraternity of Elon Musk hero-worshipping, narcissistic, typically white young men who adopt hyper-traditional gender roles and who are wholly driven by their egos and sense of self-importance. Nothing and no-one can get in the way of their goals. These men are competitive, aggressive, work 24/7 and have nothing but disdain for anyone who doesn’t put the job before anything, and I mean anything, else. This creates an environment that is bullying, toxic, exclusionary and difficult for anyone—in particular women—who isn’t in their clique. Oh, and yes, this behavior is frequently endorsed and rewarded by their equally bro-like employers.
This Wolf of Wall Street culture used to be more or less exclusive to wealth management (in particular hedge funds and more recently, fintech) and technology companies. For example, a newly unredacted document alleges that Goldman Sachs was accused of 75 incidents of sexual assault and harassment that were reported between 2000 and 2011. And in 2017, a series of reports were revealed highlighting Silicon Valley’s culture of discrimination, harassment and settlements. Not long after that, journalist Emily Chang released her book, Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys of Silicon Valley, where she revealed the disturbing extent of sexism in the tech industry, from 2018.
But over the last handful of years, there has been a depressingly accelerated growth of bro culture II in certain Web3 industries. We’ve all heard the stories of the crypto conferences held in strip clubs, the swimsuit clad performers and the lap dances. Tech companies such as EV startup Rivian were accused of “toxic bro culture that marginalizes women” in a recent gender discrimination lawsuit. Then California-based videogame mega publisher Activision Blizzard recently added more women to its board in an attempt to redeem itself after a lawsuit by the State of California alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment and a lawsuit by Activision investors, who claimed that they knew nothing of the company’s intolerable workplace culture.
How could this be happening considering the progress we thought we had made over the last two decades? As a veteran of the advertising industry, I’ve had to put up with my fair share of sexism and the exclusionary old boy networks early in my career. Thankfully, for the most part advertising has evolved tremendously to the point that it’s one of the most gender balanced industries in the country. Our NYC based agency has, at this point, a 50:50 male/female split in the leadership team and a higher proportion of women to men in the agency as a whole—this is not at all unusual for advertising in 2022. And much of this is thanks to the determination of past generations who pushed to at least crack the glass ceiling to allow for equal opportunity.
I thought the worst of misogynistic behavior was behind us. It would appear it is not. Sadly, the last few months in particular have taught us that the progress made by those who fought to change the rules can shockingly be reversed, all in the blink of an eye.
How can we stop this grave reversal of progress? Here are some of the ways I believe we can drive back momentum toward making the workplace a safe space:
Founders and leaders: just because an industry reeks of bro culture doesn’t mean that your company should follow suit. Break the mold and change the game.
Change begins at the top—then rolls downhill from there. For example, still, only 20-30 percent of employees in Silicon Valley are female. This will only evolve if founders and CEOs commit to making changes in the leadership team (and to the company at large) to create an equal ratio of male to female employees. This would apply to racial diversity too. Not only is this the right thing to do, no company can serve its customers well if its leadership does not reflect the diversity of its customers. This makes business sense too.
Diversity and equality bring new thinking and progressive approaches to problem solving and innovation. Web3 industries will move through the adoption curve toward broader audiences quickly. It’s already happening. Companies need to be ready for that change, but if bro culture prevails, they won’t be.
No matter how large or small the company, a robust, well trained, diverse HR team is critical. This team needs to work with the founders and C-Suite executives to set strict and achievable goals for hiring quotas, and strict zero tolerance, zero excuse rules to prevent a toxic, inequitable workplace.
Employees at all levels need to be regularly trained to recognize and report sexism and bias and to strive for fairness and equality at all times. This begins with onboarding training programs.
Oh, and one last thing—hiring enough qualified women to “fill quota” is not good enough. We need to ensure that women have the same seat at the same table, the same rights and an equal voice. As leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure they are given every opportunity to use it.