The idea that many of biggest business deals are done on the golf course may be a cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still true. Yes, even in 2016.
And while our society is slowly chipping away at many of the behaviors that make working women feel excluded, the continuing importance of work-related golf outings appears to be one that’s still flying under the radar.
Here’s what some members of our site Fairygodboss, where women can share their work experiences, have to say about golf and the workplace:
“Men advance a lot further than women and get special treatment, especially if you’re into what the “boss” is into, like golf or drinking.” — a healthcare executive
“You better know how to play golf, but then, you won’t get invited to play.” — a finance executive
“A senior employee may invite a young man to play golf at a local charity event, but would not extend this opportunity to a young lady” — a packaged goods executive
At times in my own professional experience, I have felt alienated both personally and professionally by the continuing importance of golf in business.
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In fairness, golf is a salesperson’s dream come true. Compared to the typical stiff thirty-minute sales meeting, a golf outing with a client is an extraordinary opportunity to build rapport. “Think of it as a six-hour sales call,” Bill Storer, president of Business Golf Strategies, told Golf.com. And he’s right. In what other situation would you ever get to spend such a long amount of time in an fun and relaxed situation with your client or prospect?
Better still, an invitation to play golf on a good course is something that many clients who are golf aficionados just can’t refuse. It’s much easier to land a meeting with a key prospect than offering the boring standard in-office sales call.
But while golf can be a fantastic tool for salespeople, it’s one that’s rarely available to women.
In business school, in addition to studying finance, accounting, and strategy, I diligently took golf lessons. And while I’m no Jordan Spieth, I’ve had enough experience to handle myself on a golf course. I’ve even played Pinehurst No. 2! But in all my years of sales—even as my male peers spent day after day on the course with key clients—I never received a single invitation. Nor did I ever extend one.
Why? Golf is still predominantly an activity for men to engage in with other men. Not because women can’t play, and not because they don’t have access, but because the male clients want to golf with other men. Golf is one of the few pockets of the business world where men feel that they can defensibly exclude women. The unspoken implication, of course, is that the outing would simply be less fun with women present.
In my own experience, when it was clear that golf was the way to a client’s heart, a man always took the lead. That means a female salesperson would get excluded from conversations with key clients. Even in client meetings where the chatter turned to golf, I suddenly became invisible.
The prevalence of golf in the workplace in 2016 is surprising. In many ways, it’s a last vestige of boys-only clubs and three-martini lunches. For companies, it’s expensive both in the cash outlay and in the lost time away from the office. And it’s not just women who are left out in the cold by our continuing reliance on the sport; I’ve also seen golf used as a way to exclude other men who were not “in the club” in a terribly junior high school way.
I believe it’s time to ask ourselves: Is there still a place for golf in business? I’d like to ask the business community—salespeople and clients alike—to think twice the next time you select your foursome and consider a more inclusive activity. Personally, I’m a fan of Karaoke.
Romy Newman is co-founder of Fairygodboss, a job and career community for women. Have you ever felt excluded at work because of golf or similar activities? If so, consider sharing your advice and opinions with other women in the Fairygodboss community.