“Haven’t seen a poster like that since I lived in a fraternity house.”
I was chatting with my wife over dinner and filling her in on the first day of my new job. The fledgling tech startup didn’t have many employees, but was experiencing strong customer growth. I was brought on board to manage customer service and was excited about the opportunity.
When I had interviewed, I never saw the software developer’s “Coding Pen” which was located in a converted conference room. While giving me a tour of the office on my first day, the CEO brought me in to meet the developers.
The average age was probably 25 and the group was all guys. Pretty typical demographic for developers working for a tech startup.
The first developer I shook hands with was the team lead, Jason, and he was wearing an Orioles baseball cap backwards, shorts, t-shirt and sneakers (no socks). His t-shirt had a silhouette of a curvaceous female with the caption – “Coders Do It Better.”
I said “Funny shirt.”
Jason gave me a serious look and said, “How is it funny?”
After an uncomfortable pause, he smiled and said “just messing with you,” swiveled his chair around and went back to writing code.
My eyes must have visibly widened when I glanced up at the wall above Jason’s computer. Tacked to the wall was a poster of a girl in a red bikini laying on a red Ferrari with the caption “Red and Juicy.”
I’m still not quite sure what it meant, but could probably hazard a guess. The CEO led me out of the Coding Pen and never said a word about the poster. I had to assume he condoned it.
I’ll admit it. The poster made me uncomfortable. Welcome to the world of the Brogrammer.
The Rise of the Brogrammer
Perhaps I was becoming stodgy in my middle age. I started out as a twenty-something programmer and worked with mostly men. But the companies I worked for at that time were big companies with human resource departments that would have had a cow if a poster like that was hung in any office.
I had also recently worked for another startup software firm, but nothing this overtly sexual was ever posted for all to see.
As I was relating this to my wife (who happens to work in HR), she sighed and said, “Lawsuit waiting to happen.”
Evidently, this was part of the “brogramming” culture. I read a recent article on CNN about the continued rise of the male-oriented tech culture, popularized in the movie “The Social Network” about rise of Facebook. The article defined "brogrammer" as a mash-up of "programmer" and "bro," the stereotypical fraternity-house salute.
I was in a fraternity and, yup, these peep-show posters were prominently displayed. When you put a group of young men together, this should not be a huge surprise. The difference is that a fraternity is an organization only for men; a software company is not a fraternity.
And sure enough, my first hire was a female. Jane was in her early 20’s as well and she was excited about the laid-back culture of the company.
But Jane also hadn’t been into the Coding Pen for her interview.
At first, she didn’t comment on décor of the Coding Pen and I was too enamored with the new job to think much about it. In her first week, Jane and I were in a meeting with the developer team. Jason was wise-cracking with his fellow “brogrammers” about his girlfriend dumping him. He referred to her as the b-word and other words too R-rated for this article.
As Jason continued with his bravado, Jane just stared at the customer trouble ticket report. Again, I was used to hearing this language when around a bunch of guys, but this wasn’t appropriate.
I broke up the bantering by saying, “Ok Jason, save your girlfriend bashing for another time, we have work to do.”
Backlash against the Bros
Before the end of her first month, Jane asked if I had plans for lunch because she had something to discuss. As I bit into my burger she came right out and said, “I love my job, but I’m very uncomfortable working in this sexist environment.”
My stomach sank as chewed my burger. I had known this was coming and missed my chance to do something about it.
Turns out, Jane had talked about her concerns with the only other woman in the company – our CFO.
Jane explained, “Can you believe she told me boys will be boys?”
I thought, oh boy. (I think I know why the saying is “oh boy” and not “oh girl” – us boys cause more trouble in the world.)
Over lunch I did my best to calm her down, assuring her I would talk to our CEO about it. She agreed to wait and see if things changed.