Augusta National commits a Faux Pas on a National Scale

The recent events at August National Golf Club where the CEO of IBM, Virginia Rometty is not being offered membership due to her gender, demonstrate that its membership is made up of Cro-Magnon men who haven’t yet reached even the Bronze Age. Interesting how the club is more than happy to take IBM’s sponsorship money, but is stubbornly sticking to its tradition of an all-male club by not awarding Ms. Rometty the green jacket of membership as it has done for all of her predecessors. What an awkward moment for Ms. Rometty as well as a big opportunity for IBM to rethink its sponsorship of the event.

Many people have already weighed in on the subject and are pressuring August National to give Virginia Rometty the jacket and admit her and other women as members. President Obama and Mitt Romney have both supported membership for women at August National.  Margie Arons-Baron calls it “discrimination plain and simple” in her excellent blog post, Augusta National’s all male policy: who wants your ugly green jacket anyway?  Another woman, Ellen Burbidge,  is starting an on-line petition to ask Virginia Rometty and IBM to pull their sponsorship of the event. Numerous other articles supporting IBM’s pulling of its sponsorship of the Masters are appearing. Some are asking professional golfers to boycott the tournament.

Long ago and far away in another galaxy, I was subjected to exclusion from an all-male executive dining room in Houston, TX. This is not a snub comparable to August National and wasn’t anywhere near the order of magnitude of that being experienced by Virginia Rometty. I was a young consultant working for the Cambridge, MA consulting firm, Arthur D. Little Inc,  on a project for an oil well services company in Houston, TX. Besides having to listen to sexist comments from guys in the field about why women could never be hired to do their jobs (one answer: because they aren’t able to lift the heavy equipment), I was subjected to exclusion from a client lunch due to its location in a men-only executive dining room. This dining room was located on the top floor of an oil company’s high rise building. My fellow ADLer, an experienced consultant, did not stand up for me and insist that the lunch be moved to a place where I could attend. He just went along with the client and excluded me, both to my chagrin and protests. The feeling of being discriminated against on the basis of gender could not have been more blatant. And having my own co-worker bail on me when he should have stood up for me was disappointing at the time. Now I can laugh about the incident, but obviously I haven’t forgotten it. And believe me, this was one of many, many incidents of gender discrimination that I had to face in my career. After years of working in male-dominated environments and being subjected to discriminatory incidents, I became so inured to them that sometimes I no longer even noticed when they occurred.

Ms. Rometty is handling the situation professionally and appears nonplussed. She may not feel that a public negative reaction from her in the heat of the moment is appropriate. I can only speculate (and hope) that Ms. Rometty and IBM are not going to let this incident pass without taking some action in the future.

Sherry R. Gordon

Author of:
Book: Supplier Evaluation and Performance Excellence: A Guide to Meaningful Metrics and Successful Results
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