Although more than half a century has passed, some of today’s most forward-thinking organizations seem to revel in the high-flying excesses of a 1960s workplace culture that has become immortalized on film and television shows like Mad Men. While the plaid sports coats and typewriters have been retired, recent high-profile news stories have revealed that sexism, hard partying, and workplace aggression are still present in some twenty-first century workplaces.
Gender-based inequality in the workplace has gone by many names over the years—”the old boys’ club,” for example—and “bro culture” is just its latest iteration. While you’ve likely seen this phrase in the news, you may be wondering about what it really means, why we’re talking about it now, and the implications of “bro culture” in an organization.
“Bro culture” has become a catch-all term for a youthful hyper-masculinity often associated with high-pressure industries and organizations; however, elements of bro culture can be found in many types of organizations of various sizes, and can affect just one department or even the entire company. While bro culture has become best known for its “frat boy” sense of humour and hard-partying ways, it’s not all fun and games. At their most extreme, such cultures can create work environments where misogyny and homophobia are unchecked, where efforts at inclusion fail, and employee engagement stalls. Everything from workplace innovation to employer branding—how potential talent perceives your organization—can be affected by a prevalent bro culture. While there may be a stereotypical face to bro culture, it can be made up of different ethnicities, age groups, and even genders. Like most workplace cultures, it derives from personality traits, as opposed to a specific person.
Because organizations have made many admirable strides to become more inclusive in recent decades, you might wonder why bro culture remains so pervasive. Despite its pitfalls, such a culture can be effective in organizations where competition fuels high performance and a deep commitment to a shared a team vision, which helps employees meet deadlines and hit targets. Some workplaces might have a perceived bro culture, but may actually still have strict behavioural expectations with clear policies and consequences for non-compliance. This issue remains, however, when such workplaces have such a predominant culture that makes some employees feel explicitly or implicitly excluded from the team—and the rewards that come along with belonging. This creates a risk of either losing these employees or having them disengage from the work they perform. In addition, it may mean missing out on workplace innovation which can be driven through diversity. The challenge for employers is balancing the benefits of competition and cohesion with the fact that organizations need diverse talent in order to innovate and grow.
Download our FREE Bro Culture at Work Guide to discover whether your workplace shares some elements of bro culture, and discover the action points that can help ensure your organization remains inclusive.
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