What Are You Doing to Fix Your Company's Toxic Culture?

BY Kathy Crosett
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In today’s competitive employment environment, enterprises can’t afford to have their best employees walk out the door. It’s easy to imagine that workers are leaving because they’ve been lured by a competitor with a better salary and stock option deal. The new Kapor Center Tech Leavers Study debunks that myth. The truth is far more uncomfortable for employers to hear: employees often leave because of company culture.

The Kapor Center study focused on 2,000 workers who voluntarily left their tech industry positions during the past three years. Tech companies are notorious for cultivating a challenging work environment, but the information gleaned in this study contains valuable data for leaders in any industry.

Unfair Treatment

Whether you like it or not, your employees keep track of who’s getting what at your company. When they perceive unfairness, they head for the doors. Unfair treatment is the top reason for voluntary departures. Employees most likely to perceive and leave because of unfairness include underrepresented men, and women of color.

Workers noted that senior-​level managers are more likely to engage in unfair practices more than lower or mid-​level managers. In the Kapor study, employees noted either personally experiencing or witnessing the following unfair management practices:

  • Passed over for promotion
  • Given work assignment below job level
  • Others taking/​receiving credit for work done
  • Poor leadership/​management


Unwanted sexual attention is pervasive in today’s workplace. At least 10% of women in tech experienced the problem before they left their previous employers. Then, there is the general environment of bullying and hostility that exists in too many offices. Twenty percent of LGBTQ employees reported being bullied at work. Asian men reported being bullied or publicly humiliated at work (16%) or experiencing rude behavior (25%). White men reported similar rates of these negative experiences. The most disturbing detail in this report is that over half of employees (53%) pointed at senior managers as the practitioners of exclusionary and unacceptable behavior.

The Path Forward

You could save 6 out of 10 departing employees simply by trying to create a more “positive and respectful work environment.” Companies which have been most successful in changing the work environment commit resources devoted to making a change. Specifically, businesses create a diversity office and hire an employee to direct the effort.  Hiring employees from underrepresented minority groups is another step in the right direction. So is holding regular unconscious bias training sessions, which senior managers are required to attend. Above all, giving promotions to deserving employees, not to friends and family members, is seen as a step in the right direction.

What are you doing to fix your company's toxic culture?