What Even Woke Men Get Wrong About Silicon Valley's Bro Culture

Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
Over the weekend, veteran tech journalist and Fake Steve Jobs founder Dan Lyons published an opinion piece in the New York Times that he started off with what was seemingly a revelation: “The tech industry has a problem with ‘bro culture.’ People have been complaining about it for years. Yet nobody has done much to fix it.” He then goes on to call these bros “boorish jerks” and lists the number of ways companies like Uber and Zenefits have been damaged by man-children who didn’t know what they were doing.
Some might look at this article and say, "Wow, an article calling out bro culture! Looks like Silicon Valley is smartening up!” However, there are a number of problems with the opinions of a man, regardless of his success in the Valley, getting an editorial on the problems with the tech industry in such a respected publication as the New York Times.
First, when it comes to talking about issues of “bro culture,” we should remain skeptical of the Christopher Columbus effect (also known as Columbusing), when someone from a privileged group (to be honest, it's usually a white guy) treats a subject as though he’s the first person to “discover” new territory.
Let’s be frank: Plenty of women, including lots of women of color, have been talking about the issues of Silicon Valley's bro culture for a while. Tracy Chou created conversations surrounding diversity in the space and the culture that leads to such a white, male-dominated industry. Tech journalist Sarah Lacy has written and spoken extensively about sexism in the field, specifically talking about Uber's toxic culture long before most people. Susan Fowler recently went viral after writing an essay about the sexual harassment she faced at Uber and the company’s offensive and incompetent actions after the fact. Regardless of his intentions, Lyons’ "A-ha!” moment isn’t at all new. Lots of women were yelling, “Eureka!” while guys told them they were whining or being high maintenance for the same views. Don't believe me? Believe her. Also, her. Oh and her, her, her, her, and her.
Moreover, by being granted coveted op-ed space in the New York Times, Lyons receives a career boost that could’ve gone to a woman (and by including his book title in his byline, he could even profit off of pointing out ideas and concerns that underrepresented groups in the industry have brought up for years). In fact, he wouldn’t even be able to make many of the assertions he does without the work and outspokenness of women. Many, many women. So, why not hand the megaphone over to them?
But even more importantly, what’s increasingly problematic is the fact that the argument in the New York Times seems to be that bro culture is bad not because of the sexism, racism, ageism, and other bigotry that it brings to the industry (though Lyons mentions those issues in a single sentence), but because it leads to bad management which affects a company’s bottom line. Lyons points out that many of the start-up “bros” and the venture capitalists who fund them look similar (i.e. they’re mostly bro-tastic white men), but he fails to acknowledge that his own bias as a white man could mean that he’s looking at the situation with the same skewed and incredibly privileged understanding of the culture he’s trying to examine.
Many women in the industry would probably roll their eyes at the very obvious assertion that cocky, entitled people — okay fine, men — with no management experience are the worst individuals to whom to give millions of dollars. Duh. But for women, that’s the least of their problems; worrying about unwanted sexual advances from coworkers or investors and higher-ups stunting their careers in favor of people who look like them (again, typically white men) are bigger fish to fry. For many guys, no matter how long they’ve been in the tech space or how much their work has been praised, there’s a gigantic blind spot when it comes to that cause and effect. For instance, will giving money to more experienced men suddenly quash sexism or bro culture in the industry? “Heck no!” says every woman in tech reading this. Instead, there needs to be greater emphasis on the pipeline and getting women the funding, mentorship, and safeguards they need to feel secure, respected, and supported in any tech environment.
So, what’s a woke tech dude to do? Well first, when you’re given an opportunity to speak out on these issues, at the very least give tangible credit to the people who did the work. Second, and even better, hand over that microphone and the spotlight to someone from an underrepresented group who can better talk about these issues, likely from experience (annoying, never-ending experience). Lastly, amplify that work — but take yourself out of it. You don’t need a cookie for doing the right thing or for giving someone a signal boost. If you do, that’s a problem for a whole other article to address.
It’s 2017, and yet women are still fighting for equality. Data suggests it will take until 2152 to close the gender wage gap, but it shouldn’t take a century to get what we want. We want more, and Refinery29 is here to help — because 135 years is too long to wait for what we deserve today.