There is a new trend in the tech world, and it's gathering both opponents and proponents faster than Apple releases new iPhones. "Brogramming" is the hot new trend, a new breed of coder that discards the pasty-faced geek stereotype and instead relishes his testosterone while boasting about being invited to naked hot tub parties.
How big a deal is brogramming exactly? Hard to say, as it's an emerging trend, which is more pronounced at tech startups than at more established organizations. A few examples to give you a general idea:
- Matt Van Horn, 28, speaking at SXSW on behalf of the social media platform Path, claimed he successfully got Digg's attention by sending them bikini shots from a "nudie calendar" he'd put together and used the term "gangbang" to refer to interviewing by committee.
- Sqoot, a deals aggregator, advertised for a Boston hackathon listing "friendly (female) event staff" as one of the event's perks.
- At MegaStartup weekend, one male team repeatedly used a gratuitous picture of leaping bikini-clad women, despite the fact that the audience was half women.
- When a female coder complained about a Geeklist video featuring women dancing in their underwear, a Twitter flame war ensued.
- Klout, the social media influence-measuring company, recently advertised for coders at Stanford University career fair with the following pitch: “Want to bro down and crush code? Klout is hiring.”
I attended a session on the brogramming trend at BarCamp Seattle last weekend, and the discussion became quite heated. (Take a look at Alyssa Royse's fantastic slide deck and talk here.) While valid points were made on both sides, what became apparent is that this was the first of many discussions on this growing trend. Most of the polarized points of view centered around personal anecdotes ("I'm not offended if someone belches, so this is just an overreaction to boys being boys" or "I used to have other female colleagues; now I'm the only one") rather than comprehensive views of the effect of this cultural trend as a whole, which indicates that we are still at the knee-jerk-reaction stage of this topic.
Where's the harm?
While brogramming may simply appear to be a case of the testosterone-heavy just being themselves and light-heartedly proclaiming a new self-identity for coders who work out, engage in binge drinking and are hip enough to attract sexy women, as Business Week pointed out,
"There’s also an audience that feels left out of the joke. Women made up 21 percent of all programmers in 2010, down from 24 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Anything that encourages the perception of tech as being male-dominated is likely to contribute to this decline," says Sara Chipps, founder of Girl Develop It.
So what's wrong with boys being boys in the workplace? Same thing that was wrong with whites being whites in the workplace: having a self-identity is perfectly acceptable, as long as it doesn't create a hostile or unwelcoming work environment for another gender, race or religious group. What is unacceptable about Klout's job pitch is that it entirely excluded one gender, and bro or no, that is not cool in the workplace.
Try out this analogy. The brogramming culture is inappropriate for the same reason that it's inappropriate to bring a crying baby to your cubicle: both are acceptable in your personal life as part of your personal life decisions, but neither is appropriate in the workplace. Creating a culture that celebrates one gender while alienating and marginalizing another is not acceptable, productive or ultimately sustainable.
I have a confession
And now, I have a confession. I was terrified to write this post. I mean truly fearful. Even now, I actually have butterflies in my stomach, and I'm only writing the draft, for Pete's sake! I'll admit that I am afraid of the label "feminist" as well as the polarized controversy that may erupt as a result of addressing this topic. I am generally a fan of moderation, and I have never enjoyed being at the center of any type of confrontation or controversy. However, this is something I feel strongly about.
The best companies create a corporate culture that encourages creativity, independence, respect and wackiness for all its employees, no matter their gender. Is it okay for guys to identify with and talk about more testosterone-oriented pursuits? Absolutely. Go to those naked Malibu hot tub parties on the weekend and use the word "gangbang" to talk about how the baristas made your coffee. Just keep it out of the workplace.