Women's golf serves as a good metaphor for women in business in many ways. Women continue to struggle to get the same respect as men, but bias keeps getting in the way.
— By Vincent Pane
This is not a diatribe on bias against women. But it is difficult to not notice the similarities between some of the struggles of female golfers to earn respect and continuing bias in the workplace where the glass ceiling seems unbreakable at times. Female golfers perform outstanding feats on the golf course, but the men get the media hype. In the business world, women run powerful companies, but few can name them.
Female golfers work their way up in the ranks by winning, and businesswomen run large corporations, but their accomplishments usually make the news when they misstep. The LPGA top money players are diverse women, and there are women who began playing as children and have worked their way up into professional status. In the corporate world, there are female CEOs who manage billion-dollar corporations, and they are role models in a world in need of role models for the younger generations of women.
Who Are They?
Most people are familiar with the names Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Elon Musk (Tesla Motors and SpaceX), and Tim Cook (Apple). How about Safra Catz (Oracle), Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo), Phebe Novakovic (General Dynamics) and Marillyn Hewson (Lockheed Martin)?
Most people know Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka as top world professional golfers. Are the names Gaby Lopez, Nasa Hataoka and Inbee Park familiar to the general public?
Women have struggled for decades to break through glass ceilings across industries, but even when they do, they still often fail to get the respect due them for their accomplishments. In May 2019, a golf instructor and commentator made comments about women's professional golf on a SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio channel that got the attention of female golfers like Michelle Wie. It cost him his job.
The golf instructor joked with a co-host that he "could not name six players on the LPGA Tour. Maybe I could. Well … I'd go with Lee. I'd get a bunch of them right." Then he went on to ask where the women were playing. The implication of his comments was that all Asians look alike, and that women in professional golf are not important.
No Laughing Matter
Wie is a Korean American, and she responded on Twitter that she had to call him out for racism and sexism, saying it was no laughing matter. It is similar to male employees making jokes about women in the workplace and not understanding why the jokes are inappropriate. Women are labeled too sensitive or over-reacting.
This is one of the challenges in training people to understand bias in action. Women who succeed in professional golf and business have worked hard to overcome bias, demonstrated their knowledge and competence, and offer unique perspectives and abilities. People who are accomplished deserve equal respect.
The radio announcer did apologize and said he regrets making such insensitive comments. The problem is that, once such jokes are made, a certain amount of trust is lost. It is difficult to restore it, too.
Trust is important in the workplace, whether talking about female golfers or businesswomen. Trust is important because it builds morale, generates positive emotions, and promotes teamwork. Trust encourages people to take reasonable risks while striving for excellence. Trust is also easily destroyed with a few biased words and actions.
Figuring out how to Change the Situation on the Fly
Sexism and discrimination continue to influence the workplace, whether talking about the golf course or the office. It persists despite education, training and calling out people who make discriminatory statements.
Kay Koplovitz was the founder, chairperson and CEO of the USA Network in 1982 when she was invited to a media lunch for the Augusta National Golf Network. Women were not allowed in the dining room, and so she ended up eating in the trophy room. Now the founder and chairperson of the investment firm Springboard Enterprises, she said in 2018 that these kind of things still happen, and women must figure out on the fly and at the moment how to change the situation. Unfortunately, women often must be the people who bring change, which is why Wie responded to the radio announcer's comments.
Female golfers continue to face bias in a number of ways, and bias continues in business even when the intent is different.
Women who succeed in professional golf and business have worked hard to overcome bias, demonstrated their knowledge and competence, and offer unique perspectives and abilities.
One of the articles on the LPGA Women's Network discusses the bias that says female golfers are slow players. Two women in a group were paired with two men, and the men were not happy. The foursome fell behind in terms of play time, so the golf club steward suggested they split up into twosomes. To the surprise of the women, the two male golfers were then sent ahead of the two women. The assumption was the women were the slow players, but it was the men. The women talked to the course steward, explaining they were the faster players, but they were ignored. By the ninth hole, the golf steward checked back and realized he was wrong. The men were the ones holding up play, and they were asked to allow the two women to play through and to pick up their pace.
Bias is Stubborn
Making assumptions about women continues, on the golf course and in offices. Bias is very difficult to dislodge, which is why the effort to train and educate society at large and people in the business world cannot relent.
It is easy to begin thinking that "Things are getting better," but fighting against bias and discrimination must be an ongoing effort. Bias will reveal itself, as the radio announcer and the golf official proved. It reveals itself in the office when women are talked over in meetings, their ideas are dismissed or they continue to be asked to do office housekeeping type work.
The situation can change, but it will obviously take a lot more time. Bias is not only relentless. It is stubborn.