This month’s meet up examined culture in the digital and technology sector. The event was hosted by Liverpool Girl Geeks in partnership with The Lead Agency.

It’s a much-debated topic but the panel discussed ‘bro culture’, whether it exists and how companies can attract more diverse workforce’s.

Definition of workplace culture

Definitions of workplace culture do vary but according to Business Dictionary, it’s:

“The values and behaviours that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.

[It] includes an organization’s expectations, experiences, philosophy, and values that hold it together, and is expressed in its self-image, inner workings, interactions with the outside world, and future expectations. It is based on shared attitudes, beliefs, customs, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time and are considered valid.

Explaining bro culture

In the context of the tech industry, ‘bro culture’ is defined as:

A term that seeks to recast the geek identity with a competitive frat house flavor. (Mother Jones)

Or, trying to present a workplace culture as more like an american college fraternity house than your traditional office (think parties, beer and machismo). Which can create huge problems for women.

Tech is a notorious for being unwelcoming to women. This is in part because, compared to some other male-dominated industries (such as finance, politics or sports), it is relatively new and receives lots of media attention.

Tech also prides itself on being egalitarian and meritocratic, unlike many other established industries. In reality, this can be far from the truth. The panel discussed their own workplaces that have actually created a positive workplace culture, ideas from which could be replicated so that we can start to move on from our default ‘bro culture’ reputation.

Me at the Liverpool Girl Geeks event
Me at the Liverpool Girl Geeks event!

Using Uber as an example

As hinted at by the origin of the term ‘bro culture’, the tech industry is strongly influenced by American norms and values. The US is the heartland of our modern tech industry, and Silicon Valley is home to all but a few of the most valuable tech companies (think Google and Microsoft).

Uber, the ride-sharing company, now multi-national travel disruptor, is one of the most valuable tech companies at $66 billion, but it has been plagued by accusations of a toxic workplace culture.

Most notably, Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, published her blog sharing the sexist and bullying behaviour she experienced during her time at Uber.

Jo Morfee, Director of Liverpool Girl Geeks, says, “Unfortunately, a lot of the whistle-blowing happens after people have left a company which can really affect perceptions of your brand adversely. A sure symptom of a negative culture is a revolving door.”

In response to examples like Uber, Keith Price, Brand Manager at The Lead Agency, says, “It’s my passion to develop strong and diverse cultures.”

What makes a healthy company culture

The audience participated in writing their own ideas for what makes a healthy company culture on the whiteboard.

Whiteboard: What do you think makes for a healthy company culture?

Debbie Chapman, who is Head of reward, pensions and diversity at Shop Direct, says “The right mindset outdoes the quotas.” Even if your tech team is not as diverse as it could be, valuing everyone as individuals goes a long way to creating a positive culture, that more diverse individuals will want to join.

Individuals who have worked at a company for a long time can signal a healthy culture. Leyla McParlin, Account manager at Mando, says “There’s an amazing female developer who’s worked at Mando for 17 years.”

The relationship between marketing and culture

Jane FitzMaurice, Resource Partner at Auto Trader, says that Auto Trader sometimes suffers from a workplace culture image problem, which they strive to address. “There’s a misconception that you have to look like Jeremy Clarkson to work at Auto Trader.”

Keith adds, “You can’t have a strong brand without the culture to back it up. Make sure your values and the reason your business exists are authentic.” Spending your budget on shiny marketing materials will be a waste if your company can’t act consistently and authentically with the values you have set forth.

As Jo says, “You lose credibility if you go back on your values,” eroding trust in your brand and company.

To address bro culture and the ‘pipeline problem’ (a lack of skilled workers in the industry), “tech must market itself more effectively as an exciting industry to work in with varied roles,” Jo says.


The effect of bro culture

As Jo puts it very eloquently, “Sometimes we need to address the physical aspect of culture that manifests in objects.” That’s another way of referring to the physical environment created in the workplace through objects such as pool tables, beer fridges and free pizza – all symbols of masculine culture.

Keith says, “That’s not culture – they’re symbols. Silicon Valley companies seemed to use these bachelor-style objects to attract top talent.” Especially, young male talent. And other companies followed suit. “But the work environment should be designed for everyone to enjoy.”

Jane says, “Our culture at Auto Trader is about more than after-work drinks on a Friday. We recognise that people get to know each other in more than one way, and we don’t decide centrally how you need to have fun, at a certain time of year.”

And in response to inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, Leyla says, “Don’t ever be afraid to say…I’m worth more than how you’re treating me.”

The skills gap

There is a growing skills gap in the technology industry, which is not being addressed by the current education system.

At the moment, computer programming isn’t being taught in all schools, and the availability of computer science classes in all-girls schools is particularly bad.

“Girls aren’t really being told what they need to study for technical jobs,” Jo says. “We’ve got to tackle the skills gap within education, and by improving female retention rates in the tech sector.”

Final remarks

The north-west is full of amazing tech and digital companies. We need to make sure that the culture we grow is welcoming to all types of people, and not just those who you might usually assume were ‘techies’, or even ‘brogrammers’, based on the stereotypes that exist.

We now have an amazing opportunity to shape a growing industry into the most positive version of itself.

Find out more about the work of Liverpool Girl Geeks and how they strive to encourage more girls to enter the tech, digital and creative industries.

By Catherine Heath

Panel photo credit: Tony McDonough, YB News