Martha Burk to IBM at Augusta: Women Saw That

Thursday, April 5, 2012

No, Virginia Rometty, the new female CEO of IBM, was not offered the "green jacket" of admission to Augusta National Golf Club. And Big Blue did nothing. Women are still shut off this power turf and can be shunned even if they're CEOs.

Martha Burk(WOMENSENEWS)--Well, the big day for the big boys at Augusta National Golf Club came and went without a woman showing up in the green jacket that denotes membership. The particular woman in question was Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM, the leading corporate sponsor of Augusta's Masters Golf Tournament.

For those who don't follow news of puffed-up men chasing little balls around a green course, the club has always been male-only, and resisted extreme pressure nine years ago from women's groups, led by the National Council of Women's Organizations, to open up to female members.

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The debate raged for nearly a year, complete with death threats to the NCWO chair, yours truly.

Much of the argument centered on whether the club had the "right to remain private" (translate "engage in discrimination at will").

A secondary issue was the role of corporate sponsors in supporting the club's exclusion of women and the statement that made about corporate values.

The newly kindled attention this year was due to IBM's appointment of Rometty last January. IBM's CEOs have always been accorded the green jacket. But IBM's CEOs have always been male. What a difference a woman can make.

Would a Dinosaur Die?

In the run-up to the tournament there was much press speculation as to whether the club would at last dump their dinosaur image and admit Rometty. If not, what would IBM do? We found out on Thursday.

IBM--which consistently scores high on women-friendly biz rankings--did nothing, and in doing nothing they swallowed their company integrity and trashed Rometty.

Their silence sent a message loud and clear: "We respect the boys at Augusta National Golf Club more than we respect our female CEO."

To add insult to injury, some news outlets were reporting that Rometty would attend the tournament to "entertain clients."

Women such as Rometty are breaking barriers every day in corporate America, thanks to 30 years of hard work by the organized women's movement.

We got the laws changed so that discrimination at work is illegal. We got the government to require that contractors institute affirmative action in hiring and promotion, and to report the number of women, men, and people of color in every job category (but unfortunately not pay gaps).

The challenge remains, however, to break the stubborn barriers like Augusta National that wrap themselves in the mantle of "tradition." Tradition has been used to justify discrimination of all types since time immemorial.

Some have asked why one golf club matters, and what if Rometty herself doesn't care about being a member (and just incidentally having to don an icky green jacket).

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Burk Opens Her Augusta National Protest


Corporations Lower Their Profile at Augusta


Augusta National's Refusal to Admit Women Matters

Clear, concise, and absolutely right -- bravo to Martha Burk, and shame on IBM.