Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Fore! Women, Work, and the Golfing Fraternity

This morning I attended a departmental strategy meeting.
Out of 8 senior managers in attendance, I was the only woman.
This meeting took place in a hotel renowned for its proximity to a golf course.
When the meeting was over my colleagues retired to the golf course while I returned to the office.

It is an old business axiom that real meetings take place outside the meeting room – either on the way to or the way from. Protract that exit from the meeting room by adding the circuitous route of an 18-hole golf course, and you should deduce that this is where the real meeting takes place.

I bring this golf fixation of mine up again as a result of a response left on one of my previous posts, in which I discussed the impending EU legislation seeking to ban single gender organisations. Auds asks a number of questions (rhetorical I assume) about my position on this in her message.

She asks, for instance, with regard to women’s exclusion from single gender golf clubs whether this could “tangibly affect their career?”

My answer here would have to be yes.

Yes - In a very real way. If decisions, business plans, and key appointments are discussed over the tee off, then business women who have a direct interest in said plans or appointments are at a disadvantage. Women are excluded from some of these clubs entirely, and in those clubs which allow for women members, they cannot play with the men anyway.

When business discussions are eventually brought into the board room from the golf course, the full picture, or nuance of the political backdrop against which the decisions are made, is not available to the person who has not attended these "meetings".

She may appear unprepared, not in full possession of the facts, or even as if she is playing to a different tune. If she has valid reasons to posit a different point of view to the rest of a male dominated board (these things are usually, not always, male dominated) she may not have the political backup to drive her opinions through.

Compounding this problem for women is that when kudos for jobs well done are discussed and the back slapping ensues, men (and I have been involved in a case just like this) can claim their female counterparts’ achievements as their own in the club house over a few friendly pints, while the female employee will not be present to contest this. First impression counts and the opportunity to correct this false claim will not present itself back in the office. If the slighted employee, whose hard work has just been hijacked by her colleague on the golf course, raises it as an issue she will appear petty. She cannot win.

In the professions such as law or medicine this may not prove to be much of an impediment to women’s advancement in the workplace. I don’t know. Lord knows those guys have their own little club going. However I do know that in the private commercial sectors such as Finance, FMCG, Telcos etc., being noticed for your achievements and remaining on the radar of those in power count very much towards your promotional prospects in your company. If those in power are attending single gender clubs with their young male only acolytes, leaving equally talented and hard working females in the office, how do those women retain the attention of their seniors? They have to go out of their way to do so and thereby lose the advantage of the chummy subtlety fostered in the club house. They either have to work harder or get a shorter skirt.

But don’t believe me. Here is what was quoted in a syndicated Washington Post artcicle:

In 2003, the women’s research organization Catalyst surveyed 705 women in Fortune 1000 companies about what they thought was holding them back at work. More than 40 percent said “exclusion from informal networks.” One of the most mentioned informal networks was golf.

The same American study is covered in more detail here.

Auds goes on to ask:

Would a Pioneer woman not suffer the same discrimination for not getting drunk with the lads?

In the past maybe, but not in Corporate Ireland today as far as my experience tells me. Either way there is no pub I know of today that has a rule excluding women or pioneers from entry. There is free admittance and no-body is forcing the pioneer to drink. If business is on the table, as it were, the pioneer can attend and have a Club Orange. I had a pioneer colleague who made a point of attending the office outings just to be seen to take part. Not a problem. I don’t remember any business being done at these sessions, though, other than over the counter trading of Vodka and peanuts.

The issue with single gender golf clubs is that they are actively excluding women from a place where decisions are being made on a daily basis by a group of men, who are probably often of the same organisational ranking as many of the excluded women, and that these decisions can often have a direct effect on women’s careers and working life.

Auds continues:

I welcome Portmarnock's male only policy the same way I'm glad Curves only has women in it or the ICA has a female only membership.

When Curves becomes a place where careers are forged to the exclusion of men, where brown envelopes are shoved around indiscriminately, and where women claim their male colleagues’ achievements without challenge, I promise I will take up the cudgels of any ensuing campaign and post about it here.

Curves was co-founded by a man who I am sure has made enough money out of it to soften any blow he may feel about gender imbalance. That it is marketed for women may be the ultimate exploitation of women. Curves purports to be for women only because of physiology.

Of course it is nice to have women only clubs and male only clubs. In theory. In practice you will find that the majority of business deals are forged in one and not the other. That it seems to be peculiar to Golf may be a bit of a chicken/ egg scenario. Did golf clubs become the boardroom because there are no women present, or do I find it objectionable that there are no women present because the club house has become the board room? Perhaps the solution is to ban business from the golf course. Have fun working out the legal points for that one!

Regarding the ICA, which was set up in order to redress a gender imbalance and inequality in rural Ireland, I too am glad that it exists if only for that very reason. If there was no inequality it would not exist to this day. It was reaction to clubs like Portmarnock, and its rural equivalents that brought about the ICA’s existence in the first place.

I quote from their website:

The Society of United Irishwomen was founded in 1910 as the women's arm of the co-operative movement. The first branch was formed in Bree, Co. Wexford by Annita Lett.At that time there was no outlet for women. Most lived a life of drudgery - their main function being housekeeping and childbearing.They were chattels of their husbands the law was changed as a result of lobbing by ICA.

Portmarnock, its ilk, and their place in modern Ireland, is complicated by not only a gender bias, but a post-Colonial hangover, and the two may be linked. Membership is intended to say something about position and societal rights that, I feel, is borne out of what may ultimately be the same sense of inferiority that brought about the notion of the Shoneen, or the pseudo-Anglo “horsey-set” of today (covered by the Sunday indo recently).

AUDS: Our freedom to associate with like minded people is so basic and natural to the human condition that legislation not just destroys that freedom but cheapens the idea of free human relationships and equality.

Or legislation can protect it. Freedom to associate is one thing. Freedom to willfully exclude, quite another.


Anonymous that girl said...

Great post! I couldn't agree more with you and I'm all for Curves or any other womens' club being the locus of power and decision making and when that happens I'll champion Portmarnock's right to exclude women...should I start holding my breath now?

11 January, 2006 19:10  
Blogger Auds said...

I had a comment all typed up and ready to go and then closed down the stupid pop up window to cut and paste a bit of your post. Damn computers.

So in brief -
I concede that Curves is not a hotbed of corporate wheeling and dealing....

Freedom to associate is based upon the desire to set up a club that connects people based on 1 particular thing - like golf, or stamp collecting, or men who want to spend time with men etc - what's the point of having freedom to associate if you can't exclude those that you don't want to associate with?

Business on the golf course is more an issue for corporations to sort out themselves rather than having the government legislate for every little part of our daily interactions.

While your post is excellent and I feel both chastened and thrilled at being so comprehensively "frisked", I'm still very happy sitting here while the boys play golf. Or any other sport involving balls.

12 January, 2006 01:13  
Blogger Auds said...

Actually that's comprehensively "fisked" isn't it, not frisked???
Frisking via blogspot is still at an early stage of development....

12 January, 2006 01:14  
Blogger Pampooties said...

"No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs"

This was a common sight in restaurants in London up until the mid 70s.

Is this too freedom to associate with people, or is it blanket racism?

12 January, 2006 11:19  
Blogger planetpotato said...

It appears to have been your choice not to take part in the golfing session. In the same way as many men don't play golf? I can understand the point you're making about Portmarnock and I agree with it - but you can't legislate for informal social networks - not unless you ban any interaction between work colleagues outside of a work setting.

13 January, 2006 14:11  
Blogger Simon said...

Very good post about the golf clubs. They should be made all gender by law. Then the question should the same rules apply to the church. And if not why not .

However if the golf club allows women and they don't play in these corporate games well. Thats just tough thats how the world works.

14 January, 2006 18:14  

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