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Is our industry doing enough to attract and retain women?

I’ve been wondering this for years, but I started thinking more deeply after attending the women’s networking social during the Golf Industry Show, where my primary purpose for tuning in was to meet Leasha Schwab, golf course superintendent at Pheasant Run Golf Club in Ontario, Canada, and founder of Ladies Leading Turf. Leasha is accomplished, articulate and has seen just about everything our business has to offer. I wanted her perspective.

During a lengthy conversation, she shared that she has been asked just about everything silly you can imagine — including “whose wife are you?” — and countless other inappropriate questions during her tenure in the business. She learned that the only way to change people’s perceptions of women in this industry is to educate those people.

All of which got me thinking: Is our industry, the GCSAA and each of us doing enough to help women succeed?

Personally, I’ve always tried to be a strong advocate for women throughout golf. My own experience has taught me that women are the tougher species, in addition to being intelligent, hard-working, dedicated and exhibiting keen attention to detail. Often more so than the men doing the same jobs.

Golf has traditionally done a poor job of recruiting women, as superintendents, architects, salespeople and general managers. Is it that women aren’t interested in golf? Or that golf has shown little interest in women? The usual response — or excuse — is that women don’t want to work in the industry. Or that if they wanted to work in golf, they would do so. I don’t buy either argument.

Since the industry and our association can only reflect the opinions of its members, let’s look at this at the most personal level. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are you providing career opportunities for women?
  • Are you mentoring, hiring or seeking out women to work with you?
  • Are you giving women a chance to grow and showcase their talents?
  • Are you open-minded to the idea of a woman leading a team?

Here’s my message to the males in our business: Man up!

To do the best job for your facility, you need to take your ego and prejudices out of the equation. Do you turn down candidates if their politics, dress code or sexual preferences differ from yours? You shouldn’t, and if any of those are true, I suggest you take a hard look at yourself and the world around us. It should be the same for gender.

Am I saying women should be given preferential treatment? Ideally, no. Hiring should be done with a blindfold on and based on someone’s skill, talent and work ethic. But because women are underrepresented in our industry, it’s up to each of us to determine if we want to help reduce that imbalance and maybe learn some things in the process. But if a woman is the best candidate for a position, you should hire her, support her and make her tenure as successful as possible. You’ll be helping yourself, too.

Of course, this is a two-way street and women need to hold up their end of the bargain. They get what they earn, including reward, respect and personal satisfaction, which should be true of everyone, regardless of gender.

We also need to examine why there aren’t more women entering golf course maintenance. Perhaps it’s not an interesting profession for women? But are we doing anything to help make it interesting? Or, as I suspect, are we not welcoming them or interested in seeing them advance?

Our industry — associations, clubs, companies — should be doing everything possible to make the sport and its support network more appealing to women.

If you still need persuading, consider the women already in golf who work tirelessly to make it a better game and industry. Women like Leasha; Suzy Whaley, president of the PGA of America; Jan Bel Jan, president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects; and Annika Sorenstam. As we work to grow the game, we should grow our respect for the women who are giving the game their all.

I had the good fortune to work for years with Judy Bell, the first female president of the USGA. Judy earned the position through hard work, dedication and a keen knowledge of the game. She created and implemented programs still impacting golf today … breaking the grass ceiling.

Yet it never ceases to amaze me that many prominent golf clubs are just welcoming their first female board members! Frankly, it’s shameful. But if this is progress, so be it.

One high-ranking woman in the industry told me, “Men don’t know what to do when a woman doesn’t act like he expects her to act.”

How do you act?

Tim Moraghan, principal, ASPIRE Golf (tmoraghan@aspire-golf.com). Follow Tim’s blog, Golf Course Confidential at www.aspire-golf.com/buzz.html or on Twitter @TimMoraghan