Rometty’s Epic #FAIL to Lead at Augusta

by Gloria Feldt on April 6th, 2012
in Activism, ForbesWoman, Gender, Leadership, Power and tagged , , , , , , ,

Talk show bloviator Rush Limbaugh calls 30-year-old Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a slut for advocating insurance coverage of contraceptives. Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus compares women to caterpillars. And the Augusta National Golf Club’s perfectly manicured greens remain firmly planted among those last bastions protecting male hegemony over society’s most powerful economic and political institutions.

The all-male golf club, based in Augusta, Georgia, has failed once again to award its coveted green jacket to a woman who clearly deserves club membership—IBM’s president and CEO Virginia “Ginni” Rometti. IBM is one of three major corporate sponsors of the club’s vaunted Masters golf tournament, and Rometty is Big Blue’s first female CEO.

But as much as I’ve excoriated Augusta’s male leaders for perpetuating this exclusionary practice, and as much as I believe IBM’s board is culpable for not standing up for their own CEO, I’m even more distressed over Rometty’s failure to take this unprecedented opportunity to lift up not only herself but all women aspiring to the upper echelons of corporate leadership.

NEW! Listen to this TakeAway podcast with Gloria Feldt and Nicole Neily : Accusations of Sexism for All Male Augusta National Golf Club.

Rometty missed a historic chance to “sit in the high seats,” as Frances Perkins described it when tapped by President Franklin Roosevelt to be the first-ever female cabinet secretary in 1933, the same year Augusta National Golf Club was founded. Perkins took the challenge visibly as a woman because of her sense of obligation beyond herself. “I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered,” she said, “and so to establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.”

Women have advanced tremendously since Perkins’ time, not because high seats were offered but more often because women themselves opened doors, broken through glass ceilings, challenged discriminatory laws, brought their own chairs in, and risked being ridiculed in the ensuing controversy.

Rometty herself stands on the shoulders of those brave women, whether she acknowledges it or not.

Thus far, she has not. Her response to calls for comment about being excluded from the golf club have been met with “no comment.” What a shame. And what a missed opportunity to sit in the high seats on behalf of women now and those yet to come.

For until women have reached full parity in top leadership positions across all sectors, each of us—especially a woman like Rometty who has broken through that proverbial thick layer of men to earn a place at the top of a major corporation—still bear responsibility to other women to take every opportunity to push the fulcrum of justice toward greater fairness and full equality.

Kathy Groob, publisher of ElectWomen Magazine says we should call Augusta’s exclusion of women what it is: sexism.

For years, women have been excluded informally from golf course business deal-making arenas because women typically didn’t play golf and golf courses have been somewhat of an all-male sanctuary for men. The number of women golfers is increasing as women now make up approximately 22% of the golfers in the United States.

Rometty happens to be among that 22% of women who golf. But whether she plays golf or not is not the most relevant factor. The power of access and access to power are.

Because the symbolic importance of that green jacket is not about golf, as Martha Burk, the former head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, is fond of pointing out. It is about power.

When power brokers hang together, they naturally do business deals together. So it’s a big deal negative for women when power-brokering sources like Augusta National hang out the “No Girls Allowed” sign.

Sure, women have single-sex clubs too, but rarely does any man clamor to get into, say, the Junior League or Business and Professional Women or even a Curves workout studios that might be conveniently located in his neighborhood. The stature of Augusta’s all-male entity comes from its power and influence that no women’s group to date is perceived to have.

And while Augusta as a private club might have the legal right to discriminate, it’s still wrong for them to exclude women. For in doing so, they keep women from accessing a main source of power in business: the human connections that are made when 300 of the nation’s most powerful business leaders bond on Augusta’s greens and in its clubhouse.

As a woman who has more than earned the right to be among them, Rometty should stand up and speak out now for the inclusion of women.

She can start by signing this petition that has been started to get her into Augusta.

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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