November 7, 2012

Brogramming: Why Does it Matter?

Photo: tswicegood

A continuation of Brogramming: Sex & Sexism in Tech Startups.

Why does it matter?

There has been a marked decline of women in tech in the past decade. While I’m not one who says everything has to be even in all regards, I have a hard time believing that ignoring—much less alienating and eliminating—half the population is good for any business.  For several reasons:

1. When trying to innovate or problem solve, entrenched thinking and group-think are the least likely paths to optimal results. A diversity of perspectives and ways of thinking is almost inherently valuable.

2. Women are reported to control nearly 2/3 of the consumer wealth in this country. From how we buy airline tickets to groceries to online banking, all consumer goods and even cars and real estate. Not having women on a team is foolish. (No woman, for instance, would have put bikini jumping women in that pitch, which did anger at least one potential investor. Or Suggest women as beer-serving wenches at a conference, which caused them to lose all their sponsors.)

3. Building a better team means having the best talent, so, to quote my friend Dan Shapiro, who has built more successful businesses than anyone I know, “We simply cannot afford to alienate large chunks of the workforce, it is a widely understood truth that the single biggest challenge to a successful startup is attracting the right people. To literally handicap yourself by 50 percent is insanity.”

In the discussion of women in tech, people often wonder if it matters if women write code and what to do about team chemistry that is perfect without women.

In my mind, this is not black and white. If women aren’t writing code because they don’t want to, that’s fine. But if they are denied the opportunity because of systematic sexism in both education and employment, that’s a much larger issue.

Returning back to the “is this sexist” question again, I would ask, “is it racist?” If someone said “black people just aren’t as good at writing code,” or “black people just aren’t a good fit on my team,” would that be racist? If so, then “women just aren’t as good at writing code” and “women just aren’t a good fit on my team” is sexist.

Continuing that, if they aren’t a good fit, because the men on your team are insisting on sexualizing everything in a personal way, then it is the men who are a problem.

That sucks to hear, but let’s back out of it a step or two. I live and breathe sex. I do not think it is possible to remove sexuality from the workplace. Nor do I want to. Generally speaking, when our creative and intellectual juices start flowing, so do our sexual juices. And that’s okay. Actually, I think it’s all kinds of juicy goodness, because people who are fully “turned on” tend to be really creative and productive.

But taking that energy and making it overtly, personally and tactically sexual is something different altogether. Unless someone has given you their consent to enter into an overtly sexually charged environment, that’s when you cross the line.

Gawking over pictures of women in bikinis is overtly sexual charged. It is not okay in the workplace. Unless you work with me, in which case I am very clear up front that not only do you have to be comfortable watching porn and talking about kinky sex, you have to have a life in which it is okay for you to do so, because stress at home will come to work with you, and it will lessen your productivity.

The key there is consent. Plain and simple.  And the fact that I work in the sex industry. Not the tech industry. I sell sexuality, not software as a service.

Which is part of why I believe that even men don’t want to be surrounded by just men all day. Business set aside, if you want to get ahead with the ladies (something I encourage, because my mission is to help ladies have better sex, and for at least half of them, that means access to men who are not total asshats) then learning to be around, work with, listen to and understand women is your best path to success.  I promise you, most women don’t want James Bond any more than they want The Situation. The ones who want men, want men who respect them, listen to them, value their opinions, look out for their best interest and are fun to be with. Practice that at work, and you’ll be better at it after work.  No woman wants to be with a man who treats women like shit, that would be admitting that they, themselves, were shit.

It’s not funny.

We’ve all heard it time and time again: the humorless feminist. Can we stop that now, please? Along with the “women don’t like to fuck” thing, that’s bullshit. I spend all day listening to women talk about how bored they are with their sex life, and they often say that it’s because there are no men that are worth fucking. Dudes! Get worth it!

And for what it’s worth, I am always telling my girlfriends that geeks are where it’s at (and I mean it.) “Those guys won’t give up until they find an algorithm that makes your motherboard hum!” I’ve said it a hundred times, and I’m not stopping any time soon.

But the jokey brogrammer attitude about women simply isn’t funny. The rules of humor are simple, you can’t make a joke at someone’s expense unless they have status to spare. Making jokes about historically repressed populations isn’t funny, especially if you are in the part of the population of that did the repressing. Maybe in the future, but we aren’t there yet. Sucks if you are a privileged white guy,’cuz you can pretty much only make fun of privileged white guys,  but at least you have Charlie Sheen. But humor points up—we roast celebrities, not waiters. There’s a reason.

We are already fighting for credibility, equal pay, trying to prove that we deserve to be on an equal playing field. (Which, I might point out, we shouldn’t have to do.) But making us—or our body parts—the butt of jokes just knocks us down more.

So stop it. It’s counterproductive at work, and a non-starter if you’re trying to attract women.

It’s bad for women.

Look, this is simple. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with media messages that tell us we’re too old, too fat, too tired, too wrinkly, and too out of style. We don’t need to get this shit at work too.

How would you feel if a successful, chick-run, tech company slung their slogan on a schlong of unreasonable proportion that you could never live up to? Good? Productive? Like you totally wanted to screw the chick who expects your penis to be on par with that? No, of course not.

On the most basic level, it is hard to feel safe, appreciated, welcome and respected when we are, at best, left out of the camaraderie, and at worst, kept out and belittled by a sexist misogyny that blames us for not loving to be treated like second class citizens, sexual objects and the butt of jokes.

Especially when we are, at least in theory, there to work.  And then people try to tell us it isn’t happening. Remember separate but equal? When “blacks” and “whites” had separate drinking fountains? That was racism, right? What’s happening in brogramming culture is sexism in exactly the same way. Chicks can be project managers, but not coders?  We don’t get to be part of your little group because we aren’t “down” with being talked down to and about all day long.

I don’t think you should hire people of any sex, gender, orientation , race or religion to make a quota. But if something is systematically—even subversively—blocking an entire portion of the population, then it’s an “ism.” “Isms” are usually a problem.

What do you want?

Whether you want to build a better business, or be the guy who actually gets the girl, you simply have to start ignoring all the hype and noise around you, and focus. Focus entirely on the market (which, in this case, can be a girl or the people who you hope will buy your product.)

You have competition. All the chest-thumping dudery in the world isn’t going to help you “kill” the competition, as Kawaski would put it. So calm the fuck down and focus. Stop worrying about who’s having bigger parties, getting more press, has more Twitter followers or Klout, focus on what your market needs. Don’t guess, ask them. Don’t design things they don’t need just because they’d be cool and you can. Don’t spend money you don’t have on things you don’t really need. Launch a product that serves your customer’s need better than anything else can. That’s what will make you successful in business. Not g-strings with your name on them.

And for god’s sake, get a woman’s perspective, because I promise you, you will want a woman to buy what you’re selling, so ask one. Ask a woman how she shares photos, wants to read magazines, wants to look for real estate, wants…..

And if you meet a woman who you actually want to hook up with, do the same thing. You’ll be good at it now, because you’ve been practicing. Ask her questions. Listen to her answers. Share something true about yourself (not bullshit lines.) Figure out if you can meet each other’s needs, honestly. If you want no-strings sex, tell her that. Because if that’s what you want, and you tell her something different, you’re gonna unleash a whole lotta crazy. And vice versa. You have no idea how sexy direct communication is. It’s super hot. It’s an app that actually works rather than one of those gajillion apps that somebody wrote because they were so cool, bro, without thinking about if they really do anything that anyone wants.

Keep what you want.

And this is the most important thing in both businesses and relationships: acquisition is harder and more expensive than retention. Whether it’s an employee, a customer or a girlfriend, it takes a lot of resources to find the right match. The best way to not have to go through that as often is to get it right. That, invariably, means communication, respect, and trust. There is nothing in brogramming culture that fosters any of those things. Not in the board room and not in the bed room.

After the talk that didn’t really happen, I was approached by both a gay programmer and an African-American programmer, and both of them said, essentially, “this shit hurts us too.” Brogrammers are the “mean girls” of the tech world. And it sucks for everyone who isn’t one of them.

Be the change.

Look, I get it. I’m not trying to be a buzzkill, but the people who say there isn’t a sexism problem in tech are delusional. There is. It’s real, and it really is a problem. You simply cannot alienate and eliminate half the population and not take some responsibility for it.

Paraphrasing The Social Network, it’s not because it’s geeky, it’s because the brodom inherently does not involve women. There is no way you can use our tits to sell your products and serve your drinks and then say that as an industry you value us. There is no way your “leaders” can give speeches like the one Rob Specter and Matt Van Horn gave, to much applause, and tell us you value women.

You can’t even blame it on the other guys, unless you are one of the ones who stands up and calls bullshit. As I often tell my 13-year-old daughter, as bad as the bully is, it’s the people who don’t stand up to the bully who make the bullying problem as big as it is.

And that’s the good news. When you stand up and opt out of brogrammer culture, you become one of the good ones. You become a force that puts an end to sexism, you become a voice that focuses on what really matters, you become something positive.

The tech world has gotten a lot of bad press lately. Yes, I think the media focuses on the negative, but I also think that’s why it grows. People think that’s the way to get attention, and they want attention. We all do, it’s normal. After all, we can all name Matt Van Horn now, who cares if it’s because he’s an example of Brogrammer douchebaggery?  They’re “famous.” Or at least infamous.

We should all care.  Because unless we put a stop to it, the tech industry will be to sexism what the South is to racism. An embarrassing hanger-on to the progress that the rest of the world is making. Tech is going backwards—and the numbers show it. We are losing women in tech, while women in leadership in just about every other industry are increasing.

But will being “that guy,” the one good one, get you the girl? Actually, it will. By being respectful, trustworthy and focused on quality, you’ll get the girl. I promise. As I’ve often said, I’m not interesting in dating, much less fucking, some guy who will do it with just anyone. Because I’m not, “just anyone,” and I want partners who know that. Being a douche will not get you the girl.

Being a brogrammer is bad for your sex life, and it is really bad for business.

Be a great lover.

If none of that worked for you, let me leave you with the immortal words of David Foster Wallace. I tell this to anyone who will listen when talking about sex, because it’s the best advice out there. But it works in business too, just minus the sex.

“A good lover makes you feel good. A great lover makes you feel like you are a great lover.”

Ironically, it comes from Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, and in my personal opinion Brogrammers are hideous men.

But, taking this out of the bedroom and into the boardroom, your job is not to be the most impressive individual out there. It’s to build a great product, in a great company, with a great team. And the best way to do that is to make sure that the people around you feel great being around you. That’s what will make you better than anyone else. Be the guy that helps people be the best they can be.

That will get you ahead. And, well, head.

Alyssa Royse is a hot mama in her 40′s raising a teenage daughter and 2 young step-daughters. She is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and PR hack who is now working entirely to promote healthy sexual freedom for all humans – because sexual agency is a human right, and also an important part of health and wellness. A popular speaker and guest writer, she can be found most often on her eponymous blog, AlyssaRoyse.com, on her new startup venture, NotSoSecret.com and as the co-host of the weekly radio show Sexxx Talk Radio on The Progressive Radio Network. (Downloads available on both prn.fm and in iTunes.) When she’s not thinking and writing about sex, she is generally playing with her big, queer, bi-racial family, traveling, reading or at the CrossFit gym sweating. Yes, she would probably love to come speak at your conference, or write something for you, contact info is on her blog. No, she does not want to date you, her dance card is blissfully full.


Editor: Elysha Anderson

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