NEW YORK (TheStreet) --Twitter (TWTR), fittingly, lit up the Twitterverse this week when news broke about a recent “frat party” hosted by one of their teams, featuring a flowing keg and beer pong. The optics weren't good, to say the least.
In the loaded context of Silicon Valley, where gender imbalance has been clearly documented and sexual harassment and gender discrimination are sometimes alleged, Twitter’s recent fete seemed to embrace the rowdy, randy culture that many feel has contributed to female tech employees’ alienation.
Having served as the spokesperson for a presidential campaign, I’ve spent plenty of time helping companies overcome media crises. Here are my suggestions for what Twitter (and other tech companies) can learn from its 15 minutes of media hell.
1. Bro culture can’t be the path to advancement. Does it look foolish for Twitter, in the midst of fighting a gender discrimination suit, to host a frat party? Indeed it does, and whichever executive approved it should be reprimanded -- though not fired -- for their utter lack of media savvy.
But in the scheme of things, the party is only a symbol. There’s nothing inherently discriminatory about playing beer pong. Occasionally hosting mindless events where staffers can blow off steam isn’t a big deal.
What would be a much bigger issue, however, is if frat-style parties were the primary or only way for employees to network with each other. Employees should never be socially or professionally penalized if they eschew dumb drinking games; the real action and talent spotting should take place through gender-neutral initiatives like “emerging talent” leadership programs, networking dinners, or other events organized and championed by company leadership.
If the CEO is going to host intimate lunches for rising stars, or personally facilitate a “Lean In Circle,” you’re going to be there – and that helps shape employees’ view of what’s important.
2. Hire feminist leaders. In 2012, Yahoo! (YHOO) certainly changed the discussion around its tired brand by bringing in someone young, vibrant and female, in the form of Marissa Mayer. Twitter, in the midst of its own CEO search, could attempt to do the same.
But far more important than the gender of its next leader is ensuring that whomever is hired is a feminist. An enlightened male CEO who values the contributions of women at his company can do just as much for gender equality as a female leader (and sometimes more, as he can serve as a peer role model for other men who may be less tuned in).
At a minimum, hiring a leader who genuinely appreciates female talent obviates the business risks of picking a loose cannon like Dov Charney, who wreaked havoc on American Apparel (APP) with allegations of sexual harassment. And at best, a leader who appreciates diversity will help tech companies harness the full economic advantage that inclusion brings.