Monday, April 9, 2012

glass ceilings everywhere...

What decade is this? The CEO of IBM is a woman, Virginia Rometty, but she can't be a member of Augusta National, because it's an all male golf club!

From today's Wall Street Journal

The Masters will lull you. To enter Augusta National Golf Club is to step back in time, and the atmosphere amid these pine trees is intoxicating—serene, verdant, immaculate. There's no modern chaos. Even when invaded by thousands of golf tournament "patrons"—a grandiose term for "fans"—tradition rules.
Of course, all that whispery reverence becomes pretty silly. The Masters can feel stoned on mysticism and prestige, to the point where Augusta National becomes a reality distortion field, detached from the outside world. This is not heaven. If it's heaven, it's heaven with a Hooters around the corner, and a brand new champion named Bubba.
But reality takes its time pushing through the gates here, which is why Augusta National is again confronted with a question that gets elevated as a "cultural moment" but really just sounds absurd in 2012: Why aren't there any women members?
The subject has been pushed to the forefront by the appointment of Virginia M. Rometty as the CEO of IBM. IBM is a prominent Masters sponsor, and Augusta National has a history of inviting the company's top executive to join its club. Ms. Rometty is a golfer. She spent late Sunday afternoon at Augusta sitting in a second-row chair behind the 18th green. Her jacket was pink, not green.
To enter Augusta National is to step back in time, and the atmosphere amid these pine trees is intoxicating—serene, verdant, immaculate.
She was right there when fan favorite Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen sank par putts to send the 76th Masters to a playoff. She stayed locked in her seat as the pair rolled up 18 again for the first playoff hole. She stood and applauded when word arrived that the 33-year-old Watson had captured the Masters on the second playoff hole, at the tenth, down the hill from IBM's company cabin. If she's not a golf fan, it's hard to say who is.
For Augusta, welcoming Ms. Rometty to the club should be a no-brainer, a rubber stamp, a tap-in, to use the golfer's term for an easy putt. But it's not.
Defenders of Augusta National always point to the fact that it's a private club, and is permitted to conduct its business the way it wants. And it's true that the club is not breaking any laws.
Beyond the fierce protectors, there's a substantial, soft middle population of patrons and sponsors who may agree that women belong in Augusta, but are too enchanted by the Masters to push. This charming environment of white-painted cabins and $1.50 pimento cheese sandwiches makes it easy to turn down the common sense, and resist rocking the boat. That is how exclusion survives.
It's time to take off those stylish green tin foil hats, turn down the reality distortion field, and acknowledge the obvious: Absence of a female member at golf's most prominent club—not just a folksy conclave in the woods, but the sport's best-known stage, a citadel of corporate power, happily monetizing and broadcasting its event to millions—is woefully out-of-date and should embarrass anyone invested in this event.
It feels bizarre to even refer to this as a "debate." This confers far too much respect, as if it's actually a subject worthy of argument. Look at the recent comments from President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney—I'm pretty sure if you put both men in an open field, one of them would tell you it's sunny and the other would tell you there's a raging hailstorm. Both men agree that Augusta should admit women.
But Augusta National abides by its own clock. In an instant-response, social media era in which the slightest provocation and merits a reply, it doesn't react to campaigns or even polite queries. The club can do as it wants, and knows that this majestic tournament has a way of airbrushing uncomfortable truths. Sponsors glide along.
Witness Augusta National chairman Billy Payne's awkward news conference last week, in which he repeatedly dodged questions about female membership. Augusta National has dragged its heels before—it didn't have an African-American member until 1990, and it endured protests about the absence of women in the previous decade. Stubbornness is built into the woodwork here.
This controversy is unlikely to stop the Masters from being a significant event. The shame is that it's preventing it from being a better, more inclusive one. If Augusta can handle a Bubba in a green blazer, it can handle the 21st century. And the 20th.
Watson is a likeable, unpretentious champion—"It's just me. I'm just Bubba," he said when it was over—and Virginia Rometty is not an inconvenience for Augusta National. She's a gift. A female power broker, a golfer, atop one of the world's most prominent companies, where a green jacket has customarily come with the job. It doesn't matter if Ms. Rometty wants to press her case. All the public relations gurus and crisis managers on earth couldn't have given this anachronistic club a better opportunity.
It should be so simple. It's sad that it's not.
Write to Jason Gay at

1 comment:

  1. I agree. It is really shame that something like this can happen in year 2012. But where arguments do not work, money can help. If IBM and other major sponsors start to cut their sponsoring, the club will reconsider its position on this.