Consider your biases

Does the Tech Industry have a Drinking Problem?

Is the social acceptability of drinking within the tech industry causing us an exclusion problem?

October 01, 2019

I have a complicated relationship with alcohol. My mother was an alcoholic who drank herself to death.

I’ve used alcohol as stress relief and as a tool to combat my introverted social tendencies. In fact; I have to be honest, I think I still do.

Using alcohol as a tool was a dangerous tight rope for me to walk, and I feel I’ve been lucky not to fall off it. In retrospect, I was very close at points.

At work, we use this tool as readily as we use project management software. I feel we’re walking a similar tight rope.

The acceptable poison.

The social acceptability of alcohol seems to have made it an integral part of the creative and technical industries. How shocked would most people be if an industry celebration didn’t include a glass of wine or a beer?

When I moved to Germany, I was surprised to find that companies have beer fridges on site. It was terrific; I thought that we could grab a beer as a team after a hard days work, decompress, process the day and create the bonds that form a great team.

And this seems to be an accepted industry norm. All conference have after-parties with free alcohol, provided by a sponsor. Everyone expects there to be a least a few free drinks and the company Christmas party.

Exclusion

Have you ever been sober with a group of drunk people? It’s a surreal experience if you are familiar with being on that side of the divide.

I drink, and I enjoy it. So it’s hard for me to stand as an expert on this. But I’m fearful this acceptance of alcohol as a regular part of day-to-day business life is excluding people from essential elements of the work environment; socialising.

Drinking alcohol seems to be accepted as the norm, but it’s becoming less so. Young people across Europe are drinking less even in 2004, 31% of Europeans hadn’t had a drink in a year.

You are potentially excluding 30% of your company without thinking about it, just because it’s the norm.

Don’t go home tech industry, you’re (probably) not drunk.

Now I don’t think I’m going to be joining any militant anti-booze movements any time soon. However, I wonder if we can start to consider this in the same way we think of any other inclusivity and diversity within the industry.

Maybe next time you plan a team-building exercise find something that engages everyone without the need of a ‘few beers after’.

Maybe next time your company wants to sponsor something at a conference rent some lanes at a bowling alley instead of just putting some drinks behind the bar at some shitty club? There’s still beer to be had there if you wish, but some fun for people who don’t drink.

I don’t want to be some preachy bore, but I think we can do better.


Phil Bennett

Phil is an engineering manager at Klarna with 20 years experience in the tech industry. He has an empathetic team lead who is always striving to get better at helping others get better. He also has an unhealthy interest in burgers.