Almost ten years ago, I remember well when the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) brought up the issue of the all-male Augusta National Golf Club refusing to admit women into its prestigious club. NCWO led a push to crack the club’s longstanding policy against female membership which included a high-profile protest during the 2003 Masters tournament.
At the time, I was a young woman fresh out of graduate school and quite frankly didn’t really understand why it was such a big deal and worth the effort, especially given the many other pressing issues facing women’s rights. So what if men wanted to have their own club? As a member of a sorority in college, I certainly knew plenty of same sex organizations and clubs that operated without an issue, and each gender was fine with that exclusive make-up.
However, what I quickly learned was that Augusta National was different because of the stature and influence of its all-male members. And by shutting women out it was sending a message that it was fine to keep women out of the halls of power, and away from where important business decisions were being made.
It is well known that golf is a popular way for professionals to network, share ideas, and get exposed to higher-level people that can advance their career. Augusta National is no exception and represents a place where powerful business men come together and ultimately benefit each other’s work. Without women part of the membership it sent a clear message that they are not significant enough to take part in the important business discussions taking place every day in the club, and on the golf course.
Last week Augusta National announced that after 80 years the club will admit its first two women, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore, into the club this fall. The unexpected announcement garnered a wide array of reaction ranging from praise for the decision to does it really matter in the context of Todd Akin’s ignorant remarks about rape.
So what is the significance of the “boys club” finally changing? Does it will really help women in the long run? And how symbolic is this decision made by club chairman Billy Payne?
Ultimately the move to admit these accomplished women is symbolic because it shows the importance of getting women access to the business elite. For decades women have worked hard to earn a right to be in the halls of power in companies and organizations across the country. Therefore August National’s decision to admit women is an important step in recognizing that women deserve to be in a room filled with accomplished men, and should have access to the same networking opportunities.
While the move may seem insignificant to some in the whole scheme of advancing women in the workplace, anytime there’s a “win” in making sure that women are on an equal playing field as men is important and all part of advancing women’s rights. When corporate leaders publicly participate in activities that keep women out, it makes a very public statement about the value of women workers and their contribution to the enterprise, no matter their position in the company. And in today’s society with women making up half the workforce, it’s ludicrous for women leaders to not be in those activities because their experience and point of view should be a part of those discussions and networks.
As Deborah Frett, CEO of the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, said on NPR “It was never really about golf. It’s always been about power and keeping women out of the halls of power and away from where business decisions are made.”
Not all single sex organizations and clubs are the same, and those whose policies present barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace should integrate so that there’s a level playing field in networking, exchange of ideas, and exposure to power. A club like August National represents power and women should not be kept out of the halls of power in the 21st century when women have ascended to roles of stature in government, business, law, medicine and many other fields.
Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore are ground breaking women and strong choices to break the Augusta National “green jacket” ceiling. They represent the accomplishments and strides that women have made in the workplace and I have no doubt they will be able to go “toe-toe” with the Augusta members not only in discussions in the dining room, but on the golf course as well. I hope they represent the first of many future female members wearing the green jacket.