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ITA Exec Spin: Antidotes for Bro-Culture

Tuesday, May 2, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Julia Kanouse, CEO, ITA
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Recently, The New York Times ran an opinion piece: “Jerks and the Start-Ups They Ruin.” The article decried the tech industry’s toxic “bro-culture” and how it stifles creativity and innovation. As a few high-profile PR disasters have proven, the tech industry nationally has a problem with “bro-culture.”

What is bro-culture? It’s a business world that favors young men at the expense of everyone else. It’s deleterious effects on diversity and the bottom line, were at the forefront of my mind at our recent Chicago Tech Summit just last month. But what I heard from the CEOs and senior leaders that spoke wasn’t bro-talk and the cavalier bro-down attitude of the Time’s piece but instead humbleness and pragmatism.

Additionally, the feedback we received from attendees were that they appreciated the honesty and “realness” of the speakers at the Summit – there wasn’t blustery or “I’m the best” on display. There was genuineness, real insights and the speakers weren’t afraid to share their failures. In fact, Thomas Parkinson, CTO, and co-founder of Peapod spent the first five minutes of his presentation running through all the failed business ideas he and his brother had before they landed on the booming grocery delivery platform.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t “C.E.-Bros” within the Chicago tech ecosystem. There are – I’ve met a few of them. But, as a whole, I think the nature of our region, the companies we build, the way VC’s invest make us less susceptible to them. CEO and founder of Ocient, Chris Gladwin, perhaps summed it up best during his Summit keynote. Chicago itself and those that choose to live here when there are sunnier, warmer climes in January are characterized by a strong resilience and reasoned passion. And beyond the occasionally brutal winters, Chicago has battled back from taxing economic conditions such as deindustrialization and offshoring time and time again.

This climatological and historical seasoning has created a culture of measured enthusiasm. Chicago’s restraint gives credit to skillful practice, collaboration and satisfaction over self-promotion. This reasonable approach keeps the bro-down to, thankfully, a bare-minimum. However, it also curtails the exhibitionism that tech values with both eyeballs and dollar signs. There tends to be a false conflation between showmanship and innovation, and Chicago tech’s national presence is a victim of that false conflation. We’re better workers than we are showmen, and we tend to be more concerned about getting it done than with telling you about it. As we’ve written about before, The Chicago School of Technology is about realism and competency, which can, unfortunately, be a hard sell to those who don’t understand or embrace the Midwestern work ethic.

None of this is to say that we don’t have work to do here in Chicago. Diversity and inclusion, investment in women-founded and run businesses continue to be problems for our region, as well. I have been reflecting on these issues since I have stepped into my role as CEO of ITA. ITA has hosted several Women in Tech receptions and, while well received, they lacked a tangible outcome. To combat bro-culture and progress results-driven diversity initiatives, ITA will soon be launching a council focused on women’s leadership. The group will be an umbrella organization to cultivate women leaders, connect the community and increase female leadership at growth and enterprise companies. Stay tuned for more from the ITA as we identify ways we can make an impact on these critical issues.

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