Why Preventing ‘Unfair’ After-Work Drinks Is Actually Unfair On Single Women


by Edwina Langley |
Published on

After-work drinks discriminate against working mothers and companies should put a stop to them, suggested Jeremy Corbyn last week. Speaking at an event to launch his women’s rights manifesto, he claimed after-hours socialising ‘benefits men who don’t feel the need to be at home looking after their children and it discriminates against women who will want to, obviously, look after the children that they have got.’

Great idea Jeremy, I thought to myself, but what about working women (and men) who don’t have children to go home to? What should they do after work? Just go home?


His comments were made in the wake of a recent report produced by the Women and Equalities Select Committee, which uncovered that the number of women forced to leave their jobs over pregnancy discrimination had doubled in the last decade.

It would seem logical to surmise therefore that his idea was formed from a desire to curry favour with working mothers in light of the report’s statistics – not to mention, working mother MPs whose support he will need as the battle for Labour leadership draws ever closer to its conclusion.

Whilst I think Jeremy Corbyn’s intentions were honourable, when you use words like ‘discrimination’ to justify policy, you have to have a watertight argument that ensures the policy itself will not discriminate. Which I don’t believe this one does.

After-work drinks (which is basically what we’re talking about here, although Jeremy was mindful not to reference ‘drinks’ specifically, and neither did he use the word ‘ban’, though that was the implication) are a way to let off steam after a gruelling day in the office. Everyone knows this.

Are they the healthiest way to welcome in nightfall? Evidently not; but it’s not the consumption of alcohol that’s the issue here. (If the norm was the ‘post-work cappuccino sesh’, one would imagine that would have been deemed equally discriminatory by the manifesto.)

Let’s firstly address how the argument is valid. Yes, I can see it’s unfair for working mothers to miss out on social work events because they do not occur during working hours. I would assume it’s very likely that those who do stay out, racking up bar tabs, will form a closer bond with each other, than with those who are absent.

It may also then follow that when it comes to promotions or favouring one colleague over another, that those that drink together, stick to together. And yes that is unfair; very unfair. But is banning socialising the answer? I think not…

The answer clearly lies in professionalism. Professional people will promote the person who does the best job, not the person who tells the funniest jokes at a bar using a stack of peanuts as a prop. If this isn’t standard practice in an office, clearly, the wrong people are in charge. And that is what needs to be addressed.

Secondly, I’d like to look to the subject of stereotypes. Jeremy’s comment that after-work socialising ‘benefits men’ and ‘discriminates against women’, implies this is very much a man v. woman debate. That men stay out drinking and women rush home to the nursery.

But what about women who don’t have children to go home to and do partake in these social activities? Moreover, what about the dads who hurry home to tend to their kids (a regular scenario these days as the cost of living rises and households require two incomes, meaning Mrs Mum may not always be the one doing bath time – almost like co-parenting between a man and a woman is an actual ‘thing’ now…)?

Surely what Jeremy’s argument actually comes down to is that after-work drinks just appear not to benefit parents? (It’s a little amusing to note, here, that all this goes with the assumption that people actually like socialising with their co-workers. How many parents might use their children as an excuse not to do it?!)

Since this appears to be the crux of the matter, let’s examine it. Why is it ‘unfair’ that people without children should socialise after hours just because parent workers are not able to?

In order to answer this, let’s look at who these people are, these un-parents, and imagine why the after-hour drinking sessions might appeal…

First up, they might be young. The not-yet-at-the-marrying/baby stage, who see the socialising as a way to ingratiate themselves with senior workers, in a way that perhaps their anyone-can-do-dogsbody-work doesn’t allow.

Secondly, they might be people who don’t want to have children; those who see the focus of their life as their career, one they’re ultimately enhancing by getting to know those they work with in an informal environment.

They might be people who are looking to settle down but haven’t yet; those who use the socialising as a convenient more jolly alternative to those solitary nights at home with take-aways.

They might be people who fancy their co-workers, and see after-work drinks as a way in which to gawp at, and giggle with, their office crush in a location less awkward than the water cooler.

Yes, they might also be those people desperate to get ahead – but in my experience, those are the people who’ll do a number of other things to get ahead as well. They’re the ones who’ll take up smoking just to accompany their smoker boss on that Monday morning cig break in the rain (think Rachel from Friends); they’re the ones putting themselves forward for working late or weekend shifts; they’re the ones who never take a sick day or use up holiday... Parents (and other colleagues) must realise these people operate on ambition, and their desire to progress won’t diminish, regardless of whether they are ‘allowed’ to spend nights down the pub with the CEO or not.

With these not uncommon scenarios in mind, it appears it would actually be unfair on the people they describe, not to allow them to socialise for the simple reason that they don’t have children.

Is it nonetheless still ‘unfair’ on parents who can’t join in? Or is it, in fact, that they just don’t need to? Their jobs take up their daytime hours, and their families occupy their nights. Presumably they want both, so why would they want to inhibit one for the other, when there’s a very clear and easy work/life balance to be made here?

And if it is this ‘getting ahead’ business that after-work drinks appear to offer, which remains the long-standing bug bear for those unable to do it, they should consider this: a recent article in the Huffington Post claimed that the most successful people on earth make it home for dinner at night. Which, when you think about it, figures – primarily because they won’t start the next day with a thunderous hangover.

If preventing after-work drinks is Jeremy Corbyn’s solution to battling discrimination against mothers in the work place, I am worried for female Labour voters. Not least because what took place following the evening event at which he proposed this grand ban was, so ironically, a drinks party.

Follow Edwina Langley on Twitter @EdwinaLangley

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