The glass ceiling is a term coined by Marilyn Loden at a Women’s Exposition back in 1978. It is used the describe the barrier which prevents women from being promoted to top jobs in management.
Women in the golf industry are facing the same issue. It’s somewhat Rodney Dangerfield-esque. You know, the comedian who always claimed he didn’t get any respect.
Gender equity was the focus of a recent Golf Journalists Association of Canada summit which featured three women in positions of leadership within the golf industry.
Some might say, whoa, wait a minute! There you go, three women in positions of power. What’s the issue?
This may shed some light on that question and open a few eyes. According to the Canadian PGA there are 3,500 golf professionals in the country. Of that number,200 are women and 31 are head professionals or directors of golf. The math isn’t that difficult and of course it doesn’t cover other jobs in the biz which women could fill easily but are overlooked.
The diverse panel was comprised of Mollie Marcoux Samaan, current LPGA commissioner, Beth Ann Nichols, senior writer for Golfweek and currently the president of the Golf Writers of America (the first female to hold that job) and Mary DePaoli who is the executive VP and chief marketing officer for RBC.
For DePaoli, the golf experience was not a traditional growing up with the game one. Instead, the corporate world was where she was introduced to the sport in the 90’s, working in the asset management field.
“I was a young woman in an extremely male dominated business and one of the first things I had to learn was to play golf because that’s where a lot of the conversations happened. That’s where a lot of the outings happened,” she said.
It became a very useful business tool for her, especially when she joined RBC and discovered just how golf connects with the corporate world. Being a woman in golf was exciting, growing the game through sponsorship but lonely at the same time, she explained.
“In the six years that I have been in this role it’s very rare that I am at the table across from another woman and I find that disheartening too.”
Beth Ann Nichols experience with golf has been as a player and a journalist. She is currently the only female writer at Golfweek and she agrees with DePaoli about the lonely feeling she gets, adding, the male to female ratio is starting the shift a little bit.
Samaan did not grow up with the game either, but she was a dedicated athlete and golf became another outlet, allowing her to open doors later in her business life.
“Being able to use golf in a way that a lot of women don’t really have the opportunity because they don’t feel that comfortable playing,” said Samaan. “But because I was able to play as a kid, felt very comfortable with the game, I was invited to things my entire professional career that I normally would not have been.”
Samaan at one point was the athletic director at Princeton University and she said her gender was more relevant than at any other time in her career.
“I think it was because I was managing 37 sports, including the football team, the men’s basketball team. I would be a wealthy woman if I had a dollar for every time anyone asked me ‘Oh, you’re the athletic director for the women’s program or the men’s and women’s program?”
Samaan says one thing which may be useful would be using the right language when talking about the LPGA.
“One of the things which drives me crazy is when we talk about golf and then we talk about women’s golf. It’s sort of like, it’s all golf and then there might be men’s golf and then there might be women’s golf. It’s those little language tweaks in how the LPGA or women’s golf is viewed as “the other”.
Another aspect of bias witnessed by women has to do with how a course is set up for play, and not just for the pros either.
Nichols says she finds many women aren’t playing local courses in the manner for which they are originally designed.
“The club that they have in their hands going into the green might be a six iron when the green was designed to receive a wedge or a nine iron,” she said, adding tee box locations could also be examined.
Nichols said a study done six years ago by the PGA of America showed the average woman golfer has a swing speed of 65 MPH and hits the ball, on average, about 140 yards. She said having a woman fitting that average to play a 52-hundred-yard layout would be the same as an average male playing a 75-hundred-yard course. It would not be pretty! So, what’s a possible solution?
Progress has been made in women’s sports around the globe but DePaoli points to an amazing opportunity which needs to be seized.
“Women make up about 50 percent of the population. That’s 50 percent of the fan base, 50 percent of the participation base. Women still make the financial decisions in most households so there’s an economic impact,” she said. “Moms are still introducing young kids and have a big hand in the sports they choose at an early age. Why wouldn’t we engage women as a significant strategy. Not just because it’s common sense and it’s right for society, it’s also good for business.”
Samaan says a shining, but chilling example of gender bias is one which her daughter experienced at a private club. She called her after seeing a wall of plaques displaying the winners of the club championship over the years, both male and female.
However, the ladies side displayed the name of the winner as Mrs. John Doe for example. To clarify, the men were not listed as Mrs. Jane Doe.
Golf has laid claim to the phrase of “a game for all ages” but it still has a way to go to be for all people it seems.