Of Golf Clubs, Boys' Clubs, and Workplace Equality

Two contrasting articles about gender and jobs are circulating today. One is FINS reporter Julie Steinberg's piece, "Yes, Ladies You DO Need to Play Golf." The other is a New York Times piece about men entering fields traditionally dominated by women.

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Two contrasting articles about gender and jobs are circulating today. One is FINS reporter Julie Steinberg's piece, "Yes, Ladies You DO Need to Play Golf." The other is a New York Times piece about men entering fields traditionally dominated by women.

Ladies first: Steinberg is the author of another piece that got a lot of attention recently"Nine Rules Women Must Follow to Get Ahead." In that piece, she recommended golf to women as one of the nine rules: "Dress well and play golf." Monday's follow-up wonders, "Golf. Has there ever been a sport so polarizing?" and goes on to give "evidence" of why women should take it up, and how to do so. "The issue isn't about golf," she writes, "but rather about needing to be where deals are made and relationships are built."

In recent history there has been a major polarizing story about golf, and it's about women, too. However, unlike Steinberg's piece, it shows the limitations of her advice to women to follow men to where the deals are being made. That's IBM CEO Virginia Rometty and her exclusion from membership at Augusta National, despite IBM being one of the three sponsors of The Masters, which take place at Augusta National. Historically IBM CEOs have been offered a membership to the club. Rometty wasn't, which New York Times golf reporter Karen Crouse spoke out against—and was then censured for by her boss, Times sports editor Joe Sexton. In the ensuing controversy, there was a moment when Augusta National's chairman Billy Payne had the opportunity to be women-inclusive... Instead, he said it was no one's business whom the club decided to offer membership to. Ouch. On one side, that evidence of a staunch old boys' club; on the other, the advice that suggests women take up golf to be closer to the "nexus of power." Unfortunately, no one seems to address the question of what to do when even golfing women are prevented from entering that nexus. Should they simply golf better?

Not surprisingly, the two women most quoted on the matter of whether women should golf—Leslie Andrews and Adrienne Wax—have written an entire book about it: Even Par: How Golf Helps Women Gain the Upper Hand in Business. So, yes, they are the experts on the topic; they are also likely interested in promoting their book. Oh, and Andrews is a golf instructor. A contextual disclaimer of sorts is made in Steinberg's piece: First, it's not about the golf, per se:

"If the important people and deals were in the swimming pool, I'd say learn how to swim," Wax, 57, said in a recent interview. "You want to be close to the nexus of power."

Steinberg continues, "like it or not, corporate retreats, business meetings and social events with clients tend to take place on the golf course." There's no backup to this point; presumably we're only talking certain careers here? She goes on, "Women comprise one fifth of the 25.7 million U.S. golfers counted in a 2011 survey, according to data provided by the National Golf Foundation. Andrews and Wax want to add to that figure because they believe golfing enables a boss or client to see a woman as a human being worthy of a relationship, not just a number-cruncher sitting at a desk."
Andrews and Wax want there to be more women golfers, fine. But are we to assume that clients and male bosses are so limited in vision and humanity that they can't see women as "human beings worthy of relationships" if they don't get on the golf course together? Further, while it's fine to suggest to women and men that they might attempt to network in the places their bosses frequent, how often are those places the golf course, anyway? The golf course may be a traditional networking spot for folks of a particular job or socio-economic level, like, say, CEOs, a "club" of which very few women are members. But that's a position the majority of guys aren't filling either.
As for likely spots to network, this writer has never known a boss to golf—in journalism, for one, the more likely spot is the bar. Yet none of these career advice pieces seem to recommend having some beers with the boss as a way to "get ahead." That's not bad advice, if you do it the right way. Andrews does say, of her recommendation, "it's as simple as being where the people are." So how about, stop pushing golf (there are 7 sports "more popular" in the U.S.A., according to recent stats), and just say, network in the right place for your job and you? 
The contrasting piece to "Yes, Ladies You DO Need to Play Golf" is a New York Times article by Shaila Dewan and Robert Gebeloff that explains how faced with a job market in which many of the traditional opportunities for men without degrees have dried up, more men are turning to jobs once considered the "province of women." This includes jobs like dental assistants, hygienists, nurses, teachers, bank tellers, and so on. Write Dewan and Gebeloff:
“The way I look at it,” Mr. Alquicira explained, without a hint of awareness that he was turning the tables on a time-honored feminist creed, “is that anything, basically, that a woman can do, a guy can do.”

A Times analysis of census data from 2000 to 2010 showed that in that time period "occupations that are more than 70 percent female accounted for almost a third of all job growth for men, double the share of the previous decade." However, "that does not mean that men are displacing women — those same occupations accounted for almost two-thirds of women’s job growth."

More than a third of men turning to such jobs now also have college degrees, a fact that some chalk up to the recession and others say simply reflects a decreased stigma as well as, well, maybe these jobs are just more satisfying. That all sounds like progress. On the less progressive side, men still earn more than women "even in female-dominated jobs" (this can lead to raised wages for everyone, though as of yet does not appear to) and are more likely to become supervisors. 

There's a lot at work and a lot still unknown, but what we can take away for now is that men and women and their various careers are far more complicated than any standard algorithm. That men are embracing jobs once deemed "female" isn't guaranteed to lead to workplace equality. But neither will a woman embracing golf. We're all smarter than to assume that at this point, aren't we? 

Image via Shutterstock by Sattahipbeach.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.