Why Uber (and Silicon Valley) need to rethink the ‘bro-culture’

The world is all atwitter, lit up about an odd year at Uber, which didn’t turn out to be so odd by Silicon Valley standards. The bro-culture persists. How ironic, my last post was about how poorly our industry is doing when it comes to recruiting women, while here in the Valley we’re treating a lot of them like dirt. Our Valley today is like Detroit in its heyday and Hollywood in its. Any industry at the top of the heap, changing the world, and largely run by men has a dark ugly underbelly. Now, it’s tech central’s turn. With all the hand-wringing and outrage, things flare up and then die down, but they don’t get fixed. They won’t until we have leaders who stand up for their firms’ values and make hard decisions based on them.

How can the CEO of Uber be so outraged when not too far back he remarked about putting a “B” at the front of his company name because of all the women who were attracted to him by virtue of his success? Let’s hope that Eric Holder and Arianna Huffington can make a difference, because the lack of diversity in this valley, and sexism, is rampant, and it’s been going on a long time. Trust me. I’ve worked here all my life, and it happens a ton.

No amount of “leaning in” is going to make this go away, unless boards and their leaders make sure that there are adults in the corner office, and by adult I don’t mean age. I mean values-driven leaders who are big on accountability and short on tolerating a culture that breeds the kind of sexism that Susan Fowler reports in her post this week.

Values drive decisions, but they can breed the type of sexism that is now the not so dirty little secret of this valley. High performers, disruption, coders, the next VC meeting, sales growth, and profit margins — this is the stuff that carries weight out here. Check out the buzzwords and follow the hype. Often the hype doesn’t add up to the promise of diversity, inclusion, or a safe place to work for someone who is LGBT, has different color skin, or is a heterosexual woman. There are many great places to work around here, but if you only look at the buzzwords used by the hot sexy companies, you might miss that those companies are often founded by men and run by men who have the obligatory HR function that can, in many companies, be more toxic than not. If the Chief People Officer doesn’t have a seat at the table, doesn’t report to the CEO, doesn’t set the tone for what will and won’t be tolerated, then they are not going to get done what needs done, and what’s needed is swift action and accountability for the values a company will stand for.

Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of CEOs. The ones I respect the most are the ones who said any rock star, sports star, team star, in their company — no matter HOW GOOD — goes and goes fast if they are not adhering to their corporate values. Let’s hear that, read that, say that again: any rock star, sports star, team star, in their company — no matter HOW GOOD — goes and goes fast if they are not adhering to their corporate values.

We need more leaders like those — any race, any religion, any gender. Unless leaders get up and stand up for things like integrity, diversity, accountability, collaboration, team, AND performance, we are going to continue to live with this kind of nonsense. There’s an old saying in life — there are no bad dogs, just bad owners. There are no bad team members, just bad leaders. Oh sure .0000999% might be the bad seed, but that’s the large minority and not worth our time.

What is worth our time is making sure we have a backbone and are as strongly intolerant to values violations as we are to anything else. At Outsell, we say our ethics and integrity playbook is what we stand up for. Folks know not living up to it, no matter how good they are, means they aren’t as good as they think. These ethics and our values are what we stand up for, and we think we can be a company that works — by doing good work, delivering good results to our clients, each other, and our stock holders, while also doing good. No one gets it right all the time, but it sure goes a long way to set the tone for what’s tolerated, and you can bet I’ve never thought we should put a “B” on the front of our name.

So let’s live the mantra of those leaders I’ve come to know. Say it three times: any rock star, sports star, team star, in the company, no matter HOW GOOD — goes and goes fast if they are not adhering to the corporate values. Make sure the executive team and every middle manager gets it, signs the blood oath, and lives up to it. Makes me think again, how much I admire Tim for wanting to make 50% of his top leadership women by 2020.



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