“Free beer!” “Open bar!” “Come to happy hour!”
Tech meetups and events have a tendency to promote the availability and use of alcohol. This can be a large barrier to entry for those choosing to stay sober. Many people aren’t comfortable with the thought of attending an event where drinking alcohol is the norm.
I’ve been upfront about my struggle with alcohol use issues while working in our industry. However, reasons for abstaining go well beyond issues with alcohol abuse. Even those who are comfortable with others drinking express concern over having the “Why aren’t you drinking?” spotlight shone on them when they attend an event.
Guess what? It’s none of anyone’s business why. If you aren’t comfortable asking a colleague if they are pregnant, or on anti-psychotic medication, you shouldn’t feel comfortable asking a colleague why they aren’t drinking.
So what can we do?
We want to have events that bring tech people together. Nothing is better than making connections over the shared joy of our experiences working in this field. Here are suggestions event planners and attendees can focus on for creating a more inclusive feel to our events.
1. We can have dry events that are still fun.
- There is no law stating alcohol must be served in order for people to attend a tech focused social event. PhillyCHI recently broke the mold and held its first BY-No. This was an alcohol-free social event where the organization sprung for dinner instead of drinks for those who attended. People socialized and networked all the same as would have happened if the event were held at a bar.
2. We can have events that don’t focus on alcohol use.
- I believe alcohol and sober people can coexist. The important part is having a focus to your event that isn’t solely on alcohol. Think: softball leagues, trips to museums, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, game night. Notice that alcohol may be a part of any of these events, however it is not the focal point the way holding an event in a bar makes it.
3. We can explicitly acknowledge attendees might not drink alcohol.
- There’s no reason to make it a mystery your event is friendly to those choosing to abstain. Here is an inclusive statement that can be added to the description of any event containing alcohol: Not everyone drinks alcohol. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Soft drinks, water and mocktails are available as well. Modify this as needed. The point is that people will see you understand not everyone attending your event is expected to drink alcohol.
4. We can choose to never ask why someone isn’t drinking.
- It’s impossible to overstate the negative impact of asking people why they aren’t drinking. You remove any pretense of inclusion when someone at your event utters these words.
I hope these suggestions can help create the inclusive environment we all want the Philly tech scene to be.