Golf, Augusta and the senior team (Editorial)

A year ago when Canadian HR Reporter interviewed women CEOs about their journeys to the top of the corporate ladder, one thing that came up was golf.

Specifically, male attitudes that golf is a guy-thing that women in the organization are naturally excluded from when the boys get together away from the office. This keeps women executives out of the loop, constricting their networking and deal-making abilities.

Women have fought back of course, taking golf lessons and participating in company tournaments. What this all underlines is that golf is more than a game. In many circles it’s a way of doing business.

Which brings us to the Augusta National Golf Club’s policy of barring women from membership. There’s good reason to challenge Augusta National on this issue because every April it holds golf’s premier event the Masters tournament, viewed by millions on television. So it’s not a case of some uppity feminists trying to crash the local men’s club, it’s about targetting a prestigious international event held at a course that excludes one group.

Little more than a decade ago Augusta was also excluding blacks, and while the club’s then VP, now president, Hootie Johnson was instrumental in changing club rules in 1990 to allow blacks to join, today he does not view gender discrimination in the same light.

As Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organizations in the United States puts it, this sends a message that racial discrimination is wrong, but gender discrimination is not in the same category.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of this is the list of club members. In addition to Washington lawmakers, Augusta National’s 300-odd members include senior executives, retired and active, at major corporations such as Coca-Cola, ChevronTexaco and Ford Motor Company. These executives and politicians count themselves among North America’s business elite, many with operations in this country.

Regardless of existing diversity programs, women in these organizations would have every right to question the commitment of senior leaders who also hold membership in a restricted club. What does it say about a firm’s commitment to diversity and the advancement of women, when its executives are active in a club of this nature?

Do corporate leaders of this stature really need a place to freely tell dirty jokes, scratch, belch and get away from the opposite sex? Or are they afraid the club house will be redecorated in floral patterns and throw cushions? It all smacks of out-dated attitudes about women’s participation in business and society.

Golf has become a business tool with books and courses devoted to helping people pick up the sport or be left behind in the corporate world. It’s long-passed time for gender discrimination to be removed from the Masters.

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