Words by Mark Reed - @Mark_Reed88

With the festive season looming, we’re all excitedly anticipating or anxiously dreading many a Christmas shindig.

I love a Christmas work party because it’s a great chance to socialise, have fun, and get to know your colleagues a bit better. I also like that there’s something for everyone to enjoy, whether that’s warbling your favourite Christmas tunes, taking part in the annual mince pie competition, or sizing up everyone else’s Secret Santa presents to work out who got the best gift. If you forget the religious context (I certainly do), then Christmas parties really do feel quite open to everyone.

Recently, a friend told me about a work social event that was solely attended by some of the men in his team. It wasn’t explicitly for the boys, but it ended up that way. While I applaud the effort to make time to socialise and build relationships with colleagues outside of work, I’m not a huge fan of outings that are drawn along gender lines, whether the label is explicitly present or not.

But is there really any harm in girls’ and boys’ nights out you might say? At first glance, maybe not. But, if you dig a bit deeper, I think they often leave some people feeling left out. Exclusion will be a constant presence in many queer people’s lives, sometimes in small and almost unnoticeable ways. For me, girls’ and boys’ nights out are just another reminder that I don’t quite fit in.

Of course, we often socialise with a specific group of people because of a shared interest or a desire to speak about common experiences. And I’ve gone out to many gay clubs where, for the most part, the group usually consists of gay men. We’re not excluding others who want to join, but going out to a gay club to dance with hot boys will always appeal to a certain demographic. However, while these nights out are prompted by a shared interest, many of my friends who aren’t gay men have come out to these clubs with me. They are very welcome to come along and have a boogie.

I believe that we should aim to be inclusive of the whole team. If the primary reason for any staff night out is purely to socialise, then why shouldn’t it be open to everyone? That said, it’s not just about removing the labels. It’s thinking about how we can organise social occasions which everyone can enjoy.

A good way to move forward is thinking about how we can cater to a range of people’s interests when planning our work nights out. We might think of going to the pub, but we also might go to a restaurant or the theatre instead.

We can be the instigators of change too and start to organise alternative nights out if there are none on offer. Lots of people would appreciate this too, including non-binary people, people who don’t drink alcohol, and those who don’t particularly enjoy activities traditionally seen as masculine or feminine.

It does require us to be a bit more creative, but we’re really not doing very well if our imaginations can only stretch as far as the pub. Some of us might like to go to Lucky Voice to sing a Spice Girls karaoke medley and not allow anyone else to have a go for three hours. Some of us might want to go to a ping pong bar. And some of us might even like to go bowling.

We have a chance to make everyone feel included, and that would be a great thing to do. Making a work social inclusive might seem trivial to some, but anything that can slowly change that narrative of exclusion can only be a good thing. It’s certainly a small win, but an important one too.

So let’s have work socials that bring the whole team together. Let’s have prosseco, pints and non-alcoholic beverages on offer. Let’s have book groups as well as trips to the pub. Let’s have a fabulous Christmas party for everyone. P.S. We’ve just started a book group at work and I’m incredibly excited.