I once talked about why your selection process gives advantages to some applicants based on ethnicity and gender. That post assumes that readers want to have a diverse workplace, but today I’d like to take a step back and look at why it’s important so that you have more ammo to talk about this with your managers, clients, and colleagues.
I have done this once before in a post about retention and its outsize financial impact on your company. Retention is still a fantastic reason to invest in your company’s inclusiveness. However, the feedback loop on retention is quite large: 18-36 months, which is a long time for a company to invest without information on the return.
In that post, we talked about just how fuzzy this issue can be:
1. We don’t know why diverse leadership improves a company’s financial performance.
We think it happens, in part, because a more diverse group makes folks more willing to surface disagreement without fear of confrontation. As a result, groupthink declines and the group makes better decisions. So more money comes in.
We hope it happens, in part, because diverse leadership helps companies to avoid pitfalls and capitalize on market opportunities to capture parts of the market that a homogeneous leadership might not consider. So more money comes in.
But it could also happen, in part, because women and people of color are held to a higher standard of achievement to get into leadership roles, so their presence brings up the overall calibre of leadership by preselecting for the ultra-exceptional.
It could also happen, in part, because women and people of color get paid less than white men, so having more of them means less money goes out.
But at any rate, we don’t know, so we can’t tell a compelling story that galvanizes leaders to action.
I’m starting to have some more granular answers to this question.
These answers allow you to look for information on a much shorter cycle than 18-36 months. They do not come from aggregate data, but rather from my observations on the front lines of individual contributorship in tech. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it gives you a chance to sniff out the underlying “culture smells” that will, over the course of a few years, add up to the kind of cultural debt that loses you money and loses your people.
Let’s define terms: What is a DudeBro?
A DudeBro is an employee who routinely fails to notice all the ways his biases piss people off. This is the guy (sorry, it’s always a guy in my experience) who refers to people like me as ‘SJW.’ He says ‘you guys’ in the Slack Channel and scoffs at your Slackbot response because ‘it’s not a big deal, for God’s sake.’
On the extreme end of things, your DudeBros might have received a few complaints from other employees for telling racially insensitive jokes, calling somebody ‘hun,’ or hitting on a coworker. But even if this isn’t the case, your DudeBros routinely make mistakes that impact your other employees’ ability and willingness to contribute to your vision. And it costs you money. Daily.
Without further ado, I present a list of Ways Your DudeBros are Losing You Money:
1. Your employees don’t want to share their brilliant ideas around your DudeBros.
This is because your DudeBros are bad at attribution. If your DudeBro is trying to solve a problem and I have an idea for how to solve that problem, you’re better off if I want to share that idea with your DudeBro. The thing is, how is your DudeBro going to treat my idea when he mentions in an all-hands meeting that the problem is solved? Is he going to a) say “I was struggling with X, but thanks to Chelsea’s help with a solution, we have now fixed it?” Or is he going to b) say “Yeah, I fixed it!” or c) misattribute the solution to some other DudeBro on the team? If I think he is going to choose b or c, I am not going to share my idea with him unless I have vocal witnesses around who will go to bat for me when he screws up the attribution on my idea. I have coworkers who I know to be excellent at attribution, and I will put down whatever I’m doing at any time to help them resolve challenges. If I’m alone in a room with a DudeBro? I’m not sharing. How many good ideas has your company lost over this?
But Chelsea, it shouldn’t matter whose idea it was. This refrain only comes from people who have rarely ended up on the short end of these misattributions. Only people who don’t face this problem think it isn’t a problem.
2. Your employees don’t want to hear brilliant ideas of your DudeBros.
So you can’t reprimand your DudeBro because he is ‘the leading expert at’ whatever. So impressive. Guess what, that expertise is not going to benefit your team because no one is going to ask your DudeBro for opinions, feedback, or help. This is because your employees are used to the DudeBro giving them a hard time for not knowing things.
I talked about this a bit in the context of adding new members to your software team. On the subject of what happens when your new member needs help:
Hopefully, they’ll ask for help. But frankly, developers are not always kind to other developers who ask questions—especially questions that they consider to be ‘easy’ or ‘basic.’ In fact, developers are so bad at this that several developer education academies have specifically banned the demeaning way that developers react to questions they know the answer to.
Your new developer might think that they should have know this thing and it’s their fault that they don’t know what to do. So they make it up. Or they skirt that piece of work. Or they introduce a new solution on the team, one that’s more familiar to them but that everyone else now has to learn.
When the person being asked the question is a DudeBro, the likelihood that he reacts as described above skyrockets. So the rest of your team will avoid the situation. The knowledge siloed in your DudeBro remains siloed there.
3. Your DudeBros multiply.
When DudeBros play a role in your hiring decisions by referring, interviewing, and evaluating candidates, they lean toward candidates that act like themselves. They do so by selecting for made-up criteria that do not appear in the job description, like this one:
How about “someone I’d like to grab a beer with?” Most of us gravitate toward friends who look mostly like us. Even if they don’t, they forrrrrrr-sure sound like us. So if this is one of your criteria for hiring, your hiring manager will select for people who look like them.
So now you have more DudeBros coming in the door. As the rest of your team gets fed up with being demeaned and misattributed by DudeBros, they’ll be going out the door to projects that they feel are less likely to undervalue their contributions. So now, both ends of your pipe are working against you to fix the situation. When three or four people take off in a single quarter, you’ll have a hard time righting the ship. Before you know it, you’re Uber. Whoops.
In the long run, a lack of attention to inclusion at your company will land you with retention issues and an uphill battle to fix the problem. But long before that happens, you can couch your inclusion discussions in the small things that happen every day. DudeBro culture makes your team less collaborative. It makes your team less likely to ask for help and distribute knowledge. And it has a tendency to propagate itself as your company grows. By looking for examples (and counterexamples!) of these small things on a daily basis, you can keep a close eye on where your company culture is headed.
So what do you need to send your company culture in the right direction? Here are a few hallmarks of a company culture that’s destined to succeed—that you can influence on an individual level!