You fall, face down, onto your couch after your Monday back at work. Irritated, drained, and asking yourself why you should show up tomorrow. You lost a deal, again. They all made fun of you, again. You thought that after six weeks, something would change.
It hasn’t. It’s gotten worse.
You lie back, tears swelling in your eyes, and peer through the kaleidoscope of your mind. Your day, broken into brief moments and memories, flashes by, showing glimpses of neverending puffed chests, inappropriate sexist jokes, and constant recaps of weekend parties where everyone in the office got “so effed up,” followed by an alarming number of fist bumps.
As the reel of film whizzes by, you see it all at once: groups of executives asking select members of your sales team to lunch, seeing the “it” crowd talk about getting drinks later, making eye contact with you, and never extending an invitation. The excuse? You don’t like football; you wouldn’t like the spot they’re going, you haven’t even closed a deal, what would you celebrate? Shaking your head, you agree, take a deep breath, and move on with your day.
You overheard a conversation last week where people made bets on who could “tap” the new girl first. Today, they were wondering why a pregnant woman got so much time off. You know your boss hears it.
It’s disgusting, but nothing changes.
This is the way it’s always been.
Bro, come on, that only happens on TV. It isn’t real. Is it?
When you think of ‘bro culture,’ what comes to mind? Mad Men.
Between celebrated philandering, the excessive drinking on the job, and the panty-peeking parties thrown by esteemed executives, it’s the ultimate fraternity made up of whiskey-drinking, womanizing, powerful men dominating the advertising world.
It’s a wonderfully glamorous display of what once was our ancient sales culture--but is it truly gone? Does laughing and shaking your head at this far-fetched practice make it any less present today?
Nope. This culture-killing, industry-blind ‘bro-demic’ is more real than ever.
But what does a ‘bro culture’ even look like?
When a sales culture goes full ‘bro,’ it’s not always what you’d expect, and it doesn’t automatically mean there’s a complete set of white-washed men running the show. Anyone can easily foster the practice of “bro-ism.”
It’s about behavior, not stereotypes.
If every ‘bro culture’ had tank-top-wearing, sweaty dudes drinking pre-workout protein shakes and getting ‘swole’ at the front door, it’d be a lot easier to spot them and call them out. The key to understanding and spotting a toxic ‘bro culture’ comes with awareness. To create awareness, you must know what to look for.
Cookie-cutter leadership and a clone army of followers
It may not be as evident as 1.8 million clone troopers in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but when a leadership team looks like, acts like, and hires replicas, it’s time to wake up.
Before you know it, your entire organization will be a collection of carbon copies the CEO insisted on hiring because they’re people they “could drink a beer with.” When leadership is not diverse, it cannot make well-rounded, educated decisions or provide full-spectrum support. Leadership remains unchecked and unbalanced, leaving anyone on the outside as fodder for those they take with them.
Outsiders, it’s what’s for dinner.
When it’s time to work, they will always party hard.
With great success comes grand celebrations. ‘Bro cultures’ tend to abuse or ignore the benefits of celebratory sales team builders and office parties, using them as an excuse to drink excessively and get away with inappropriate comments or behavior because they were drunk.
You might also notice client schmoozing being done in places that would, and should, make others uncomfortable, like strip clubs, sporting events, or bars. Eventually, no one else will want to show, leaving the “club” as small as they were to start and the way they prefer it.
Everyone else either swims or sinks.
Women in the workplace are often, mysteriously, confused with college sorority sisters. Most commonly, in sales and tech positions, women are expected to “be one of the guys” and are often overlooked when it comes to promotions. They’re not taken seriously and are expected to either roll with crude comments and jokes or laugh along. If they say anything, they’re “too sensitive,” and they just “need to get over it.”
Minorities and non-binary individuals are not necessarily excluded from this treatment, either. If it’s a difference in lifestyle? Too weird. If it’s a difference in opinion? It’s wrong.
Bros before literally anyone else.
Compliments change while diversity remains a quota.
In stereotypical ‘bro cultures,’ men are praised for their performance or sales acumen, women are praised for “getting dolled up” or “charming that client.” In most experiences, women are accused of “pushing them up” or flirting their way to a top sales spot while men simply did an incredible job pushing the client; their assumptive close was impeccable. It’s these types of inconsistencies that create fairly obvious gaps in employment and shorter female tenure. And if she quits? No biggie, leadership will simply hire another so their diversity checklist can remain intact. Check.
The epitome of a viscously vicious cycle.
Noticing these things will not be immediate. As with most tricksters, truly good deceivers can take some time to notice.
I’ve got bros in my sights...now what?
Now that you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to do something about it. As a leader, employee, HR representative, or just an overlooked, underrepresented individual in your workplace, you have the power to change what’s next. It’s not going to be easy, but it will not go unnoticed or unappreciated. No pressure, but it all starts with you.
Leaders, create a sales culture you want to see, then own it.
Set the rules, be the rules, and avoid total corporate annihilation because of endless scandalous lawsuits and negative word of mouth, giving your organization the wrong kind of attention. Every great culture is perfected top-down.
As a revolutionary leader, you must put in place, enforce, and live the same guidelines and standards you set for your employees. They must see you as the authority to step in when things go awry. Their workplace should be a place of sanctity. Your people must feel safe to oppose an opinion or voice a concern respectfully. You must handle the situation immediately and professionally to build trust.
Without trust, there is nothing. You are the bar.
Don’t let the lost wander forever.
Shepherd your people in and train them. Leaders, managers, and employees must be aware of ‘bro culture’ and how to identify and stop it from happening. These sorts of learning sessions should welcome open dialogue amongst all contributors, regardless of gender identity.
Let them be honest about the barriers they believe exist and allow the group the opportunity to brainstorm on how to break those walls down. All participants deserve to have a voice and be heard. Whether a person is directly involved or is simply a bystander, equip them with the knowledge they need to handle the situation immediately, gracefully, and respectfully.
Just, like, let communication flow, man.
Welcome honest feedback from everyone and anyone. Cultivate an environment that gives people a sense of comfort to participate in open dialogue, whether positive or negative.
Check-in with your people more often than they’d like. In sales environments, day to day tasks can be incredibly daunting and stressful. Just because your people are silent does not mean they’re okay and issues do not exist. Ask them, but when they give an unexpected or negative answer, be sensitive, be there, and listen.
Create a new, new, new normal.
Reassess normal, continually.
Normalization is the blending of what is expected and what is ideal, creating cycles of regularity, and “that’s just how it is here.” This sense of “normal” makes a real-life game of Pong where lousy behavior and silence repeatedly bounce back and forth, echoing each other and never changing.
Don’t let your company values or mission statement go stale or become lost in the hustle and bustle of growing your business; check-in with new perspectives to re-evaluate the strength of your company culture regularly. If your principles are from the stone age, update them, change them to fit your employee needs, and keep everyone accountable, including yourself, to keeping these updated and relevant.
Make sure your values are reiterated continuously to the point of annoyance. Notice actions that perfectly align with your reiterated values and call them out publicly (Disco is a great way to celebrate your people on Slack). Encourage your team to repeat these value-based behaviors with rewards and incentives that drive and complement your vision.
You know you’re sick of hearing it but, “this is the new normal.”
Are you ready, bro?
Let’s do this! (high five) You now know how to identify the ‘bro’ elements of sales cultures and how to cure them. It’s not too late to turn your ship around, and it’s certainly never too early to put clear culture standards in place.
Entirely changing your culture requires the high-level awareness and full participation of every single voice in the room. Be the champion of your people; create a diverse and dynamic workforce ready to stand up to any uncomfortable situation.
Change the world one fist bump at a time.