‘Brogrammer’ Attitude May Hinder Technology Diversity

By Aaron Hightower Feb 17, 2017
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​Forty-five percent of female technology workers say they have witnessed exclusionary behavior in the workplace, according to a new study of more than 1,000 tech workers by Austin, Texas-based tech job board Indeed.

Experts cite the "brogrammer" culture that sometimes crops up in the tech industry, where the nerdy computer-programmer stereotype is shunned and is replaced by a jet set, skirt-chasing, bottle-popping, frat house attitude. Often, this brogrammer clique consists solely of white men.

This type of office culture, experts say, encourages exclusivity along racial and gender lines in what is already a white-male-dominated industry.

Indeed's study of U.S. employees, conducted by London-based survey consultancy Censuswide, also showed that 64 percent of nonwhite tech workers say they felt uncomfortable at work, compared to just 24 percent of workers who identify as white. Twenty-nine percent of women who responded to the study said they had been discriminated against versus 21 percent of men. About 32 percent of Asian and other nonwhite tech workers said they had experienced discrimination, compared with 22 percent of white employees. Details about the nature of the discrimination were not provided in the study.

 

[SHRM members-only toolkit: How to Build a Diversity Initiative from the Ground Up]

 

As SHRM Online reported last year, women make up around 30 percent of the tech workforce. White workers make up 69 percent of tech employees, while the second-highest ethnic representation, at nearly 14 percent, is Asian. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's "Diversity in High Tech" special report, based on data from 2014, 32 percent of female science, technology, engineering and math workers in the U.S. felt stalled and were likely to quit within the year. "Inhospitable work cultures, long hours and travel schedules that conflict with responsibilities at home, a sense of isolation, and lack of advancement were among the reasons the report attributed to the loss of women in those fields," SHRM Online reported.

Another study report, "Breaking the Mold: Investing in Racial Diversity in Tech," by the New York City-based Open Media and Information Companies Initiative (Open MIC), a nonprofit that works on digital issues as well as diversity, confirmed the wide gap in minority representation.

Employees who are black, Latino and Native American are underrepresented by 16-18 percentage points in the tech industry. Additionally, black and Latino employees were found to make up only 5.3 percent of high-tech professionals.

Many tech companies have said that they're trying to be more inclusive by recruiting IT students from historically black universities, training staff on unconscious bias, and changing words in job descriptions that may inadvertently alienate minority or female candidates.

However, "despite actions by tech companies to improve diversity, discriminatory behavior is occurring far too frequently," said Raj Mukherjee, senior vice president of product at Indeed, in a news release. "These results should be seen as a wake-up call to the industry that simply striving to hire diverse talent is not enough—culture and attitude need to be addressed."

Diversity practitioner and researcher Renee Yuengling, Ph.D., of the Washington, D.C.-based firm Renee Yuengling & Associates, said focusing only on increasing diversity may not be enough to combat exclusionary cultures like that of the brogrammer.

"Brogrammer culture, or some version of it, has been present in every male-dominated industry that has [later] successfully integrated women and minorities. There are organizational methods to resolve these problems, starting with a focus on inclusion as the objective, rather than diversity. While we have historically focused on diversity, it is clear that inclusion is the real objective. Inclusion has the positive impact on performance, not diversity," Yuengling said in an online interview with SHRM Online.

But Jason Korman, CEO of Miami-based culture consultancy Gapingvoid, whose clients include a number of tech companies, has a different view. He believes the diversity problem in technology has more to do with a lack of female and minority candidates.

"I think there is evidence of an openness that people in Silicon Valley have to desire to be inclusive," Korman said, "but also I think the fact that there are fewer women and African Americans in tech is probably driven by the funnel [of skilled applicants] that goes into tech, not tech's willingness to accept them."

Korman added that HR leaders need to give more thought has to how people connect to each other at work and how to make noninclusive behaviors socially unacceptable.

 

Aaron Hightower is a freelance writer in Detroit.

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