The Tech Industry Has a Drinking Problem and It Is Hurting Diversity

By Kevin Crawley

Dudes drinking beer

Our industry has an alcohol problem. Before we can have a healthy conversation about this, I assume you’ll agree that our industry has an inclusion and diversity problem. If this isn’t the case, you can stop here; I doubt I’m going to convince you of anything in this post. I believe the lack of diversity in our industry is tremendously complex and alcohol is just one, often overlooked, aspect of this problem. That’s what I want to talk to you about today. In this post I’m going to discuss this issue from two different perspectives. First, from a diversity standpoint, and second, from a behavioral perspective.

Before I begin, I want to say that I’ve spent around 10 years curating this opinion. I’ve gone through periods in my life where alcohol use definitely posed challenges for me and my family. I can only attribute the lack of legal repercussions to both social acceptance of drunken behavior and sheer dumb luck that I’ve never had legal issues as a result. I can also recall instances of privilege playing a role in this, but I digress.

This data cited below isn’t conjecture, alcohol has been in use since human-kind figured out that we could ferment fruit and grain – it’s one of the most widely studied drugs in history. Set aside the toxicity and myriad of health problems it causes, and let’s examine why accepting its use at work and during company social functions is a diversity anti-pattern. To do so, we must examine the demographics which make up the overwhelming majority of alcohol users.

In 2016, the ARCR commissioned a study titled, “Alcohol Consumption in Demographic Subpopulations”. This study looks at age groups, gender, and race demographics of alcohol users. In the pursuit of being objective and basing this discussion on science, let’s look at the results for age and race:

  • 73.1% of respondents indicated that ages 18-29 reported drinking in the past year
  • 59.8% of respondents who drank in the past 30 days identified as White/Caucasian

Even more interesting are the statistics for gender**; this study includes responses from over 42 thousand men and women aged 18 and older:

  • 39% of the men who responded indicated they consumed 1 drink/week, compare this to only 19% of the responses by women.
  • The gap between these numbers increases as the number of drinks increase. A mere 9% the women who responded indicated they drank 4-5 drinks/week, compared to 25% of the men.

How many of you reading this hang out at crack houses or opium dens? I realize this is an extreme example, but I’m being serious. I’d say 99.99% of us don’t (the other fraction of percentage is reserved for those who are reading this and may have a problem with those substances – please get help). Outside of those places typically being very dangerous, we don’t go to these places because we don’t use those substances, and we typically don’t have any social or professional commonalities with them.

What I’m suggesting is that alcohol being served in the office via beer coolers, kegerators, and bars creates an environment of exclusivity for young white males in our work environment. Furthermore, alcohol is almost always served at company social events – in many cases creating social situations comprised of mostly young men, who are inebriated and whose judgement is impaired – do you see where I’m going with this? Why would women or those whose society doesn’t embrace alcohol like ours want to hang out in this type of environment?

My challenge to our industry is to admit that we have a problem, and going forward, we try and show compassion and empathy to the 6% of our peers who struggle with alcohol misuse. We should recognize that the majority of adults actually don’t drink – and those who choose to do so in moderation find hanging out after work at bars with a bunch of dudes standing around getting wasted the antithesis of fun. In order to encourage a more diversified tech industry, we first have to make it more inclusive.

Instead of a bar or keg at the office, consider an exercise room with equipment that tracks, ranks, and encourages competition. In lieu of happy hour every week, consider going to alcohol free establishments on alternating weeks. This issue won’t go away overnight, but if we recognize it and start changing our behaviors – which includes no longer including alcohol at work-sponsored social functions and especially at the office or office lunches, we will see positive changes in our work environment and community. It is time our industry recognizes that alcohol has no place in healthy, diverse, and inclusive environments.