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Women and Augusta


“Gee, Clyde, wouldn’t it be great if we could have our next board retreat at Augusta?”

Oscar was speaking over my head, as I, sitting between Clyde and Oscar (not their real names), concentrated on my raddichio.  We were at a dinner for a board on which all three of us were members.  The dinner was at a very nice golf club in the Washington region, but the men — avid golfers — were comparing the place to famous golf courses that they felt were much better.  Augusta, home of the storied Master’s golf tournament, was at the top of their preferred list.

But Augusta, famously and notoriously, does not admit women members.

“What a great idea!,” Clyde exclaimed back to Oscar, “that would be a really top choice.”

Realizing that silence was not the right option, but not wanting to make a scene, I summoned the most polite voice I could find and inquired sweetly,

“But, gentlemen, where would I go if the board meets at Augusta?”

Little darts shot sideways like sliced tee shots from their eyes.

“Darn,” said Clyde, “we forgot about that.”

Oh.  Minor detail.  Forgot about the women board members.  Sorry.  My bad.  Not really, pesky female people, always going around claiming your rights.

Our board did not go to Augusta.

But the issue is back on the first tee this week as the annual rites of golfdom swing into top form as the 2012 Masters Tournament gets underway.  The sports pages tout the eternal question:  will Tiger get his groove back?  But, interestingly enough, the business pages carry a different flag:  is this the year that Augusta’s glass ceiling shatters?

The impetus for the new round of calls for gender equity at Augusta is Ginnie Rometty, the new CEO of IBM.  The computer behemoth has, by tradition, always had a place at Augusta, sponsoring the tournament generously.  Previous IBM CEOs wore the coveted green jacket of membership.

So, will Augusta do the right thing and give Ms. Rometty a green jacket?

I’m betting no.  This is definitely not “the year of the woman” and all signs tell us that the men who make the rules at places like Augusta are not all that interested in “outmoded” concepts like gender equity, on the golf course or anywhere else for that matter.

Some of women’s hard-won gains of the last half century appear to be in jeopardy; we’re clinging to what we already have, and realizing that progress has stalled.  Women have been stuck at just about 16% of all corporate directors for a long time, now, and about 15% of executive officers.  We’re more than half the population, half the labor force, but still earn just about 77% of what earn men for the same work.

Let’s not expect a Miracle at Augusta.  Indeed, Augusta only admitted African American members starting in 1990.  And, at one point in its sad discriminatory history, while only invited white men could play golf there, club rules required those men to have Black caddies.  Since those bad old days, of course Tiger Woods has won the Masters Tournament four times.

Let’s keep our eye on the ball.  The really important news here is that Ginny Rometty is CEO OF IBM!

This just in (not a news flash): Billy Payne, Chairman of Augusta National, said, in response to the question of whether women would be admitted, that it’s basically a private matter up to the members.

Translation:  Girls!  Stick to your knitting!

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
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