Startup Leaders and the Growing Workplace Toxicity in the Tech Community

The business world is on the lookout for the next tech hero to appear. They’re on the hunt for the likes of Gates and Zuckerberg who have rocked the world with their innovations and have propelled mankind into integrating technology with our daily lives.

man-on-boatVenture capitalists are on the search for the next movers in tech startups. In response, young aspirants are raising their hands, waving their cutting-edge inventions and disruptive ideas to catch the attention of investors.

The obsession to present innovation and be the next big thing in the market has created the so-called “cult of the entrepreneur” – a world where hyper-growth, unrealistic expectations, and desire for immediate results are a norm.

The cult of the entrepreneur has bared the ugly side of the tech startup community. Greenhorn founders have found the courage to challenge ethical boundaries all in the name of innovation. It gave birth to a culture wherein breaking the rules has become synonymous with disruptive.

The cult of the entrepreneur is prevalent in the US because it aligns with the ethos of the American Dream – that anyone, regardless of their class, gender, or condition, can achieve their version of success through hard work and sacrifice. It’s the story of the self-made man – an entrepreneur – who took risks, faced doubts, and challenged adversities, by powering through and believing their innovation will better society.

In Silicon Valley, the face of the successful entrepreneur has almost always been that of a young, white, man, and for years it has been like this. In the past 30 years, 88% of IT patents filed were from male-only teams; only 2% came from women-only groups. This cycle has created a male-centric society that glorifies the dominance, rationality, and ingenuity of male leaders over female counterparts.

Along with the growth of the entrepreneur cult is the reinforcement of the “Bro culture”. It’s typically characterized as an environment filled with young, inexperienced men who form an exclusive tribe, empowered through harassment, discrimination, and aggressiveness. It’s the kind of culture that promotes humiliation, believing this will motivate people to win against all odds.

This phenomenon is commonly found in the tech startup scene which is dominated by men.

Matters are made worse as founders – often those who’ve succumbed to the cult of the entrepreneur – hire people that mirror them.

A couple of years ago, the ride-hailing company Uber faced numerous harassment and discrimination charges. Despite advertising diversity, the company became proof of the unchecked existence of the bro culture.

The cult-like obsession for techpreneurs and the prevailing bro culture remain persistent and widespread. There’s only one solution left for existing startups and those who aspire to enter the tech scene: establish the presence of the HR department right from the get-go.

Leaders have to work with the HR department to ensure the culture the company promised to uphold since it started remains intact. They have to genuinely desire to promote diversity within the staff and create a healthier workplace for everybody.

Studies from the National Center for Women & Information Technology show that only 25% of computing occupations are held by women. Bro culture can be reduced by increasing the number of women employees, especially those in positions of power. Ideally, the management should have a proportional distribution of men and women to prevent bro culture from spreading in the company’s roots.

Guarding the hiring process to ensure that not only people with like minds but also those with differing perspectives are employed, is one way to reinforce diversity. Closely working with the management and the legal department will also emphasize the HR’s role in safeguarding the company from crossing moral and ethical bounds just to achieve its goals or please investors.

The HR department should be the paradigm of morality and empathy. More than just reprimanding unethical behavior and reaching the quota of women to hire, they should engage the employees and help them realize their gender biases and inappropriate actions.

Through education and introspection, it’s possible to counteract the prevailing status quo. Changing an already toxic culture is an uphill battle but the reward is worth the effort. Strengthening the HR department’s role is the best way to avoid another fiasco like Theranos, WeWork, and Color Labs.



Yinka Opaneye

Yinka Opaneye

Yinka Opaneye is a highly experienced people operations expert with practical knowledge in recruitment, onboarding, and general talent management, culture mapping and change and general Human Resources processes.

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