This summer, I attended a tech conference with thousands of attendees. Employees of companies I dream of working from were there…and alcohol was served at nearly every major event. At the opening reception, alcohol was abundant. The only non-alcoholic beverage was water. Not only was there an open bar, but servers were walking around giving shots and pouring wine. I grabbed some food and sat down at an empty table. Pretty soon, the empty chairs next to me were filled with people bonding over the drinks, while I was awkwardly sitting in the corner, playing with my salad. I wondered, I can’t be the only person who doesn’t drink here.
I am not against drinking. Nor am I against drinking at professional events. What bothered me was how excluded I felt. Suddenly, I realized I was different from everybody else because I wasn’t drinking. The lack of other beverage options made me wonder if I really belonged in that room.
I suddenly began to understand how not drinking can hurt you professionally. My experience was less extreme than that of someone I know, who has been unable to land a promotion despite his stellar work ethic, performance reviews, and technical expertise. He gets accused of not bonding with his team. From his perspective, his team’s alcohol-driven bonding events are very exclusive. This isn’t just a problem faced by Muslims. It also harms recovering alcoholics, pregnant people, and people with allergies and other dietary restrictions. Can you imagine what it would feel like for a recovering alcoholic to be at an event where alcohol is the main focus? Most networking events I come across that are marketed to people over the age of 21 are either happy hours, cocktail parties, or involve beer.
Many networking events involve alcohol and can be exclusive in nature.
People who don’t drink alcohol have two solutions in these cases:
1) Attend the event, but feel excluded because you cannot drink.
2) Don’t attend events where alcohol will be served, even if this means skipping out on important networking events that may land you new clients, jobs, promotions, deals etc.
Is it really fair to put professionals in this situation? When we are talking about increasing diversity in the workplace, why do we never talk about the beer culture in tech companies and how it excludes many people? Furthermore, why are the beverage options limited to alcohol? Why can’t non-alcoholic drinks be served as an alternative?
If we are serious about breaking barriers in tech, it is time for us to start creating a more inclusive networking culture. After all, drinking does not reflect on a person’s interpersonal skills.