Dan Lyons doesn’t go far enough on Bro Cos.

The deeper sickness is accepting ‘culture fit’ in the first place

The notion of ‘culture fit’ is amorphous, and can mean a range of approaches to hiring and promotion, some terrible, others less so. But the recent spike in attention about the toxic cultural stew at Uber has brought the negatives of hiring for ‘fit’ into high relief.

Image for post
Image for post
Tim Enthoven source: NY Times

Dan Lyons offers a good metaphor:

Bro cos. become corporate frat houses, where employees are chosen like pledges, based on “culture fit.”

And, like fraternities, choosing pledges on fit is negative for both communities, harming both the rejected and the accepted.

The most obvious negative: those excluded may miss the opportunities that come from joining networks that grow from institutions like fraternaties, like getting introduced to former frat members who could offer employment after college.

Those who may not ‘fit’ — who have different background, ethnicity, interests, perspectives, wants — are not brought into the cultural mix, and so those accepted wind up worse off, too. Groupthink is much more likely among the frat boys because of decreased diversity. Ultimately, this is damaging to the frat, and thins the cultural mix: the frat bros who are accepted do not get the benefit of a broader exposure to diverse opinions and perspectives. They are more likely to remain small-minded and opposed to engagement with those unlike them.

To the extent that companies adopt a ‘culture fit’ approach to hiring, they are setting themselves up for a long-term problem. Yes, having a tight-knit group that share a common set of notions about the business and its goals with very little dissent can lead to higher performance when the context is well-understood, and in a setting dominated by others with similar perspectives. Like high tech startups operating in the world of venture capitalists, tech publications, and entrepreneurial society, dominated by bros.

Making the transition to competing in the larger context of business, in a world made up mostly by those who look like and think like the excluded — minorities, women, and people who find bro culture offensive — is a different thing altogether.

And it’s takes more than a Arianna Huffington showing up at the eleventh hour, and washing Travis Kalanick’s mouth out with soap to dethrone Uber as the bro co of all bro cos.

The scenario of flame out is quite common, notes Lyons:

Uber’s public downfall began in February, when Susan Fowler, a former engineer at the company, wrote about enduring sexual harassment and discrimination there. Other employees came forward with stories. One involved a manager groping employees’ breasts. Mr. Kalanick’s own bro-hood became part of the story when a video surfaced showing him berating a Uber driver who complained that Uber’s price cuts had driven him into bankruptcy. Mr. Kalanick said the driver needed to take responsibility for his own life.

[…]

Hoping to right the ship, Uber appointed one of its board members, Arianna Huffington, to join former attorney general Eric Holder and others to investigate the sexual harassment claims. Mr. Kalanick has apologized and vowed to “grow up.” (He’s 40.) Most important, Uber has announced that it is planning to hire a chief operating officer, ideally a steady hand like Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook. It’s a great idea, but it should have happened years ago. Now it may be too late.

We’ve had decades of companies like Uber — and less obnoxious ones, as well — advocating for ‘culture fit’, to the point where it has become an unstated norm for entrepreneurs, various efforts to open up tech companies to women and minorities, notwithstanding. It’s time to confront the core problem: we need deep and broad work culture underlying business based on inclusion and not the shallow and narrow bro culture built on limiting perspectives, backgrounds, and diversity.

And once you’ve gone years down the wrong path, it may be impossible to go back and dig up the roots of a toxic culture.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store