Let's Grab a Drink
A few weeks ago I went out with a few good girlfriends on mine. We had a great night, delicious food and just caught up with each other. Given that we all now live in different cities it's hard to carve out that time for all of us to spend quality time together catching up. These are women who I've been friends with since University. They have my best interests at heart, and I value our time together. At the end of the dinner though, our one friend turned to me and asked me point blank: I noticed you weren't drinking, you have to tell us, are you pregnant!?! Umm, I'm sorry what?
As a woman of a certain age, let's say I'm north of 30, going out with friends and not indulging in a glass of wine seems to set off certain alarms. People automatically assume that a woman who is in a relationship and not drinking automatically equals pregnancy. Not having a drink means that you are either trying or are pregnant. I'm sorry, but when did this become the norm? I laughed off the incident, knowing these people care about me, but more and more I'm noticing that drinking culture has seeped into our everyday lives, primarily when you work in tech. When I go to evening tech events and choose not to drink, people have no filter in asking me why I'm not drinking. Usually, I laugh this off because if you know me, you know I'm a Grandma when it comes to going out but why is it only as a woman this question is asked of me? Why do my male counterparts never get questioned if they choose not to partake?
I am not anti-drinking by any means, but I wonder: why is it that events and drinking seem to go hand in hand? To further that point, when you don't drink at an event, I often find that it's pointed out and, if you happen to be a woman, certain assumptions are made. How do we fix this cultural issue and make events inclusive for everyone?
When I began my career in tech Friday happy hours would start in the office sometimes as early at 2 pm with a developer cracking a beer while plugging away at a project or the sales team celebrating a great week. At this time in my career, I did not feel comfortable drinking at work. I was frequently the only woman in the room, and my marketing focused roles required a fair amount of concentration for writing and planning communications to our users. In short, I couldn't do my job if I was slightly tipsy. My team understood this on an individual level but would frequently laugh and tell me 'come on, just one won't hurt ya!' Eventually once I was done, I'd join them in a beer and that would be that. That feeling however of not being included stuck with me for a long time after. I was once asked by a co-worker if I was 'expecting.' He swore I could confide in him and that he would take over 'drinking for two' for me. While his heart was in the right place, an offer like this really shouldn't be necessary.
During this period, I would often think of my coworker who didn't drink for religious reasons. He once confided in me that the drinking culture in our startup made him slightly uncomfortable, he was not accustomed to this and he never felt like a part of the team. Because he chose not to drink, he rarely got invited for after work get-togethers where he would miss out on crucial team bonding time. This team had a cultural problem, as we grew, we got lucky, and the problem solved itself as people changed jobs, and a new group came in, but his confession always stuck with me though. The fact that he couldn't tell his team how he felt always bothered me, and despite best efforts, he was never able to break into their little clique.
I'm happy to say that I've noticed a change recently around inclusivity and hosting non-alcohol focused events. Recently, I've seen a rise in breakfast and lunch events where there is still great networking without the ever-present keg. I don't think networking drinks will ever vanish, let's face it, it's an easy way to get people in a room, I'd like to believe that drinking at these events will be optional and no one will take note if you are having a diet coke or a glass of wine.