Break the Grass Ceiling
Inclusiveness and Access Through Golf by Jane Blalock, CEO, LPGA Golf Clinics
The game of golf has experienced dramatic changes during the past decade; the obvious ones are the surge in high tech equipment, the increase in quality accessible daily fee golf courses, the high level of play on all major professional tours and the global popularity of the game. The most significant change, however, is the current emphasis on the business aspect of the game.
Until recently, the “art of the deal” perfected on the golf course was dominated by a relatively limited group of insiders. This sacred and somewhat secretive inner sanctum was reserved exclusively for our male counterparts which has served to perpetuate their fast track to the executive suites and the boardroom while hindering ours. The good news is that over 60% of all new golfers are women and the vast majority of this number is taking up the game to compete more effectively in the business world.
Why is learning to play this game so important?
It is about inclusiveness and access. As women continue to gain prominence as a powerful recognizable force in both private and public sectors, we need to call upon every known resource to gain that competitive edge as we whittle away at the “glass” or perhaps “grass ceiling.” If an MBA would provide you with that advantage, then you would work diligently to earn that degree. If your company was doing business with a foreign entity you would probably attempt to become more proficient with that language. If meeting face-to-face with a key decision maker was of paramount importance, you would exhaust all of your resources in that effort. Believe me when I say that the ability to play golf will offer you greater advantages and opportunities than all of the above.
More than 250 CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies play golf regularly enough to have established handicaps (a system to rate the proficiency of a golfer). Many have enjoyed the sport since youth, while the majority have taken it up to capitalize on the relaxed environment it offers with their peers. The hours spent in this relaxed environment provide the opportunity for unique interaction which elevates the level of personal relationships and ultimately leads to deal-making. Imagine having the luxury of spending four hours of uninterrupted time sharing the vulnerabilities exposed on the golf course with a person with whom you have tried to engage on the phone or email dialogue! This is the aspect of the “game” that many women have misunderstood or under-appreciated. It is that fraternal element that bonds a diverse group of people; a single round can create friendships which last a lifetime. It is without a doubt the most effective of all informal social networks.
Did it ever occur to you why there is often voice mail at the other end of the phone call on a sunny summer afternoon? Or why the C level top sales guys are seldom available on Monday’s (golf outing day)? Why the walls and desks of the premier office are adorned with golf photos and memorabilia? This is further proof that golf always has been and will continue to be the sport of choice for successful people.
I am well aware that this is not going to be an overnight occurrence, but I encourage you to start the process. My company has been involved for 19 years in offering the LPGA Golf Clinics for Women series in cities throughout the U.S. I am also proud to say that American Airlines has been our most loyal and longstanding partner. The mission of our one-day Clinics is to impart knowledge and information which will enhance your understanding and thus enjoyment of the game regardless of your skill level.
During the Clinics I am often asked; how good do I need to be to participate comfortably with associates, customers or in charity events? My response is: women tend to be a bit hesitant to venture out into the arena of business golf because they fear they do not play at a high enough level. Fear of failing is a detriment to anything we attempt in life, and risk-taking leads to growth. In contrast, the men with whom I have played simply do not care about their level of play; I have witnessed some of the most horrifying excuses for a golf swing, but their only concern is the bonding that takes place during and after the round!
An insurance executive from the Boston area had tried desperately to contact a agent with whom she wanted to do business, but phone calls and emails were never returned. She was invited to participate in a local charity event supported by many prominent businessmen in the area and discovered that she was in fact paired with this sought after person. He initially rolled his eyes at being paired with a woman, but as she was able to contribute and speak his language of sport during the round, they developed a rapport and he is now her biggest client.
A banker from California displayed her photograph from the LPGA Golf Clinic in her office and it happened to be observed by a male colleague. The story grew as news of the fact that she played golf spread quickly around the office and she was subsequently invited to participate in corporate supported events during which time her legend grew to other company sponsored events. That one photograph transformed her life from an outsider to a coveted insider.
I am sure that you now get the message that learning to play the game will have direct positive impact on your business success through the access to and quality time with prospects and peers. The challenge, however, will always remain in finding the time in our busy lives to dedicate to this quest. The demands of career and family make scheduling time to devote to the process rather daunting. Those who have found a way to dedicate the energy have reaped incredible rewards, both personally and professionally! I would be remiss if I did not add that golf is a sport for a lifetime which should be shared an enjoyed by friends and family. It offers exercise, solitude, sociability, a relief from our stress-filled days and a walk among the most beautiful settings created by nature.