Employment Branding: Where’s the Limit
A recent Mother Jones article (“Gangbang Interviews” and “Bikini Shots”: Silicon Valley’s Brogrammer Problem) takes some Silicon Valley startups to task for the way they are building their cultures. Citing a presentation by a Path executive (creatively titled “Adding Value as a Non-Technical No Talent Ass-Clown”), the notoriously liberal rag bashed the 80% male culture and its sexist predilections.
It’s worth taking a moment to read the article.
In a nutshell, Mother Jones suggests that building a ‘brogrammer’ culture (the term for company cultures that resemble frat houses) is simultaneously self defeating and bad for the industry. It works against companies like Path by building a culture that can’t effectively include women and perpetuates the 80% male culture in the industry, sez Mother Jones. Following the media scrutiny, there has been enormous hand wringing and finger pointing.
The more interesting question for this audience is about the boundaries of propriety in employment branding. It’s the essence of the question of whether the employment brand even belongs in HR at all.
The brogrammer idea and the image of testosterone driven programmers relentlessly serving the cause is the essence of one approach to building a high tech startup. Maniacs who work excruciating hours produce agile operations. The 80% male ratio already lays the foundation for frat house climates. Nerf gun wars and marathon foozball tourneys are predominantly make things anyhow.
(It’s worth noting that companies like Work4Labs, Branchout, UpMo and other networking companies don’t use this model. But, finding women in leadership in most valley companies is a challenge and their cultures trend to stereotypical maleness. That is to say that not all high tech companies operate this way but there may be an underlying thing going on here.))
So, here’s the question.
Should an employment brand be focused on the heart of the competition or should it be designed to solve larger social issues?
The former makes it a marketing question, the latter makes it an HR question. My sense is that differentiation is critical in employment branding, particularly when scarcity is an issue. While Mother Jones and a whole host of social forces would prefer that diversity be the primary value in the conversation, employment branding is about attracting the available people.
From my perspective, the future of HR depends on being able to integrate the marketing perspective with the diversity perspective. They are not mutually exclusive and their priority in a given decision varies. This is exactly where regulation, social agenda and competition come into conflict.
Thoughtful answers to questions like this are rarely binary.