Today’s sexual harassment-dominated news cycle is particularly resonant at Vox Media, which fired its editorial director, Lockhart Steele, in October for allegedly harassing a female employee. After the firing, Vox CEO Jim Bankoff announced a number of initiatives to improve Vox’s company culture, including, as Huffington Post reports, “tighter policies around alcoholic beverages at company events and meetings and generally ensuring work events and interactions meet the highest standard of professionalism.”
As a result, there will no open bar at this year’s holiday party, as there was on previous years.
Huffington Post published (and Quartz At Work confirmed the authenticity of) the no-open-bar memo, which reads:
We invite you and a guest to join us at Vox Media’s holiday party on December 12 at Freehold. Details are in the invite – please click to RSVP by Wednesday, December 6th.
A note on alcohol at this event: This year, at the request of many of you, we will ramp up the food and cut down on the drinks. There will be more passed hors d’oeuvres to keep everyone well-fed. And instead of an open bar, each attendee will receive two drink tickets with which they can get alcoholic drinks if they choose. After that only non-alcoholic drinks will be available.
We recognize that even though alcohol isn’t always the reason for unprofessional behavior, creating an environment that encourages overconsumption certainly contributes to it. We hope that you all appreciate the spirit of this change and we look forward to celebrating with you!
Sincerely, The Experiential Team
You might think this makes perfect sense for a company trying to keep everyone on the straight and narrow, but the message being sent is problematic.
It’s not just the paternalistic idea that employees must be treated like teenagers incapable of holding their liquor at an afterparty on prom night. What’s most problematic here is the message equating alcohol with an excuse for inexcusable behavior.
Alcohol is a demon. At my last company holiday party, after a few drinks I accidentally flashed my underwear while jumping on a giant inflated pizza. It was not my finest moment.
But let’s put the whole alcohol-lowers-your-inhibitions-and-makes-you-clumsy thing in the clearest terms possible: Alcohol doesn’t harass and assault others. No, people do that. Rapists, not how many drinks they’ve consumed, are to blame for rape. Same goes for harassers and assaulters. This is a reality student activists have preached for years on university campuses. Blaming sexual misconduct and sexual crimes on alcohol—even implicitly—is shirking the responsibility of all humans to treat their co-workers respectfully even when there’s liquor on hand.
Companies hosting holiday parties (and even those that aren’t) would be better off further educating their staff on the truth that sexual misconduct is never, under any circumstances, acceptable, and that in some courts of law, consent for sexual acts cannot be given if you are intoxicated. As for holiday parties, a more impactful message might be one that clarifies how to spot and effectively intervene in potential harassment, should you encounter it.
This is a reality student activists have preached for years on university campuses. But apparently, it’s not one that Vox Media, one of the most successful modern media companies, has fully internalized.