There has been a lot of talk recently about “toxic tech bros.” The phrase has been particularly ubiquitous in our neck of the woods, the San Francisco Bay Area.
Despite repeated convincing studies that have proven organizations are most successful when they are committed to fostering diversity, a disturbing trend of discrimination and sexism in the workplace remains rampant. Such cultures, built from the top down, do not serve their employees or their investors well. In any industry, the only way to remain on top is to be agile, diverse, and inclusive.
In an era of toxic tech cultures, I’m proud to be part of an organization with a founding team that emphasizes diversity of thought. Drew Batshaw, cofounder and head of engineer at Waggl, was a main factor in why I chose to join the company.
In the startup world, it’s not what you do, but whom you do it with that matters. When looking to join a startup and choose a winning professional path, the founding team should be the most important factor in your decision regarding where to work.
Recently at Waggl, we have been involved in a bit of a debate regarding our company messaging software. Many employees wanted to move over to Slack, but there wasn’t an urgent need to move to the new software, so Drew didn’t see this as a priority. A few hours after a meeting in which he expressed his preference to remain with our existing software, he sent a company-wide email that included the following excerpt:
“Our culture is one where we actively debate ideas, and when there is friction, we work through it. It is not a culture where just because one person doesn’t like an idea, they say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
“I want to own up to having that attitude about Slack. I was not modeling the way I believe we ought to work at Waggl. I think it is pretty clear that the majority of the organization would like us to move to Slack, so let’s do it!”
This act of transparency moved me to sit down with Drew to explore his role as a leader at the company. My first question for him when we met was about why he thought toxic cultures evolve in some organizations.
“I think the answer is that if you don’t do anything specific, it naturally emerges from the traditional hierarchical organization,” he said. “As organizations grow, it’s less likely you’ll have direct contact with people within the organization. Unless you deliberately set it up, the human element of an organization doesn’t naturally happen.”
I then asked specifically about the minor conflict around Slack and what guided him to emphasize diversity of thought and to respond the way he did.
“To the first part, which speaks to how to work as a team, I think it is giving everyone a voice while still leading the conversation,” Drew said. “Sometimes, we just all agree. When there is conflict, what I find works really well is to step back and align on what it really is that we are after.”
Currently, Waggl is preparing to scale, and as we do, we are looking at adding a significant headcount in the coming months. Drew sees this as both a challenge and an opportunity.
“Our challenge in scaling is that those day-to-day interactions aren’t going to be able to happen,” he said. “I will have less contact with everyone, so how do we continue to bring those values into the day-to-day process?”
I asked Drew about his advice for anyone on the founding team of a startup. He didn’t think long before answering: “If you aren’t already clear about what the most important values in your company are, get clear – and make sure that one of them is listening to your employees and making them feel important.”
This is a value Drew lives. I see him take time to connect with people in the office and remotely. He truly values his people.
Let’s be clear: It takes courage to value everyone’s opinions, even when they differ from your own. In a time of “toxic tech bros,” I think Drew is one man who gets it right.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Waggl blog.
Kate Benediktsson, is head of marketing and experience at Waggl.