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How to change the toxic bro culture at work

how to change toxic bro culture at work

Whether you’ve been in a role for a day or several years, if you look around your office and realise that there’s a bro culture, it’s likely that you’ll want to do something to change that. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, bro culture is where men band together in congratulatory, friendly ways, often publicly championing each other’s work and ideas so that their voices are loudest, often drowning out the voices of the women in their workplace.

If this sounds like the office setting you’re in and you’re looking for ways to dismantle the boys club mentality and practices, here are a few places to start:

1. Don’t be afraid to question to “norm”

It’s entirely possible that you don’t consider bro culture to be problematic – indeed, there’s nothing wrong with being friendly with colleagues of the same gender or having a circle of colleagues you prefer to go to lunch or happy hour with – but the problems come when it’s men in the workplace who are the ones who are most often acknowledged, given opportunities and promoted when there are women who are as capable and talented, but are overlooked because of bro culture tendencies. If this is happening at your office, muster up some courage and ask a simply question: why?

Why was this male colleague given this project when a female colleague had more experience with that client? Why was that male colleague’s idea given a greenlight when most people agreed a female colleague’s idea was a better fit? By asking these questions, it will give your superiors the chance to think about something they may not have even considered themselves: the unconscious bias at play in their decision making.

2. Speak up

Sometimes, speaking up can be an intimidating thing, especially if you’re naturally more introverted or quiet. But if you have a great idea or a thought to contribute to a meeting, instead of waiting for your turn to speak or until you’re acknowledged, speak up. Politely say you have an idea to be considered and throw it out there. By including your voice in the mix, you’re not only giving yourself an opportunity, but signalling to others outside the bro culture that they can speak up, too.

3. Insert yourself

If there’s a particular cohort who always band together in meetings, to go on coffee runs, to grab lunch, ask if you can join them – or better yet, just go and don’t give them the option to say no. If their conversation excludes you, continue to insert yourself by asking questions, reminding them that you are there, too. By bursting their bro bubble, you’ll act as a disruptor and will hopefully be a catalyst for change.

4. Remember there’s power in numbers

If you find that these tactics don’t work – or if you’re not the personality type to spearhead these sorts of efforts – then rounding up other women in your office who share your frustration to band together in combating bro culture. A famous example of how this could work came from Barack Obama’s Administration, where a group of women agreed to help amplify each other’s voices in meetings. It worked like this: when a woman’s idea was glossed over or ignored, another woman would speak up to acknowledge the original woman’s idea and expand on it, shifting the focus back to the idea that was overlooked. This can be an effective maneuver for you and your female colleagues to employ to ensure your ideas are not just heard, but given equal consideration.

5. Escalate the issue, if need be

If you find that nothing at your office is changing, you should take your concerns to your superiors. If you’re told that you’re impertinent or paranoid by bringing up the topic of bro culture to your superiors, or if they deny there’s an issue, then it’s worth going to HR with your concerns. If you have documented proof of bro culture tendencies – emails or internal messages where women’s ideas are ignored or where the men are clearly championing each other to the detriment of women, all the better. If HR also brushes off your concerns, consider started a grassroots movement with like-minded women and men in your company, or start looking for a new place of employment – one where diversity is championed.

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