AUGUSTA, Ga. (WOMENSENEWS)–A smattering of men hawked "Hootie hats" during last week’s Masters Week tournament to celebrate William "Hootie" Johnson’s victory over Martha Burk’s tenacious campaign to open the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club to women.
Burk sought, but did not win, admission for women to a club that serves as a who’s who of U.S. business leaders. But if Burk, chair of theNational Council of Women’s Organizations,didn’t manage to achieve her key objective, this year’s tournament suggests that, in the wake of the controversy that Burk stirred, corporations have become more circumspect about how they attend the Masters event.
Last year, spurred by Burk’s activism, congressional representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) brought a bill that would have prohibited federal tax deductions for corporate spending on or in connection to organizations that discriminate.
The bill has been languishing in the Ways and Means Committee, but its message may have reached some parts of the streets that run off Washington Road, just across the street from Augusta National. Here, corporations traditionally rented houses where they would offer meals and drinks to employees, customers, potential customers and guests.
But this year, few companies advertised their presence with signs in windows or yards. Most of the signs this year belonged to hospitality companies that rented houses and entertained on behalf of other companies.
Stephen Parry, a spokesperson for the 1018 Club, a hospitality company based in Plano, Texas, said several corporations seemed to be lying low this year. Although they still rented homes and entertained, fewer advertised the fact.
"I think it’s still a leftover from the Martha Burk thing," Parry said. "I think a lot of companies are still apprehensive to put their moniker out in a big way." Fear of a boycott may have deterred companies, he said. "Everyone’s a little leery."
Masters Week usually generates an estimated $110 million to $150 million for the city of Augusta, mostly as a result of corporate spending. The impact on the local economy is so great that Masters week is known in Augusta as the 13th month.
Despite the greater corporate sensitivity to Augusta’s male-only membership policy, some corporations were entertaining clients just as publicly as usual during last week’s tournament.
"We really didn’t pay much attention to it," said Jerry Shumpert, an Augusta-based vice president of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United, Inc., a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, referring to the male-only-membership controversy. "We’ve been doing this since (the tournament’s) inception." His company, with corporate headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., leased a building behind a house near the club’s gates and emblazoned the corporate logo on signs, umbrellas and trucks.
Burk Examines Discrimination on Wall Street
Burk meanwhile says that since focusing on the Augusta membership issue she has since uncovered a far more troubling problem. Women on Wall Street, she says, continue to face discrimination when it comes to compensation and promotion opportunities.
"It’s like pulling a thread and unraveling a whole ball of twine," Burk said. "Women say the discrimination at Augusta does not stop at the gate."
Last week, ahead of the opening of the Masters Tournament, Burk announced that she would spend the next 12 months working with the public advocacy law firm Mehri and Skalet of Washington, D.C., to investigate claims of discrimination brought by women at eight Wall Street firms: Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Co., Prudential Financial, Franklin Templeton Investments, American Express, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Morgan Stanley.
Burk says that over the past year she has received 75 to 100 complaints from women who work at these firms, all of which have chief executive officers who belong to Augusta.
None of the companies would comment on Burk’s statements, but several stressed their commitment to diversity.
"Franklin Templeton is certainly an equal opportunity employer," said spokesperson Lisa Gallegos.
By going after these eight firms, Burk hopes to keep the debate over Augusta alive. Although many people believe that as a private club Augusta should have the right to determine its admission policy, Burk says that because the club hosts the prominent Masters tournament it has an obligation to open its doors to women.
If Augusta refuses, then its members, she says, should take a stand. By not doing so, Burk contends, these men demonstrate a tolerance for gender discrimination that likely pervades their companies.
Keeping a ‘Low Profile’
Golf-world insiders emphasize how prized an honor it is to don a green jacket as a member of Augusta. "People on the outside don’t understand how sacred the green jacket is," said Alan Shipnuck, author of "The Battle for Augusta National: Hootie, Martha, and the Masters of the Universe." He adds, "It is the ultimate sign that you’ve made it."
Several of the chief executive officers in Burk’s sights are now emphasizing that their memberships are personal, not corporate. "We don’t have any relationship with Augusta, and we don’t discuss any relationship our executives may have," said Scott Scredon, a spokesperson for Bank of America.
Scredon as well as spokespeople for JP Morgan Chase, headquartered in New York City, and Franklin Templeton, based in San Mateo, Calif., declined to comment on whether executives would be reimbursed if they incurred expenses while entertaining clients at Augusta, a potentially controversial cost among shareholders opposed to Augusta’s discriminatory policy. American Express, in New York City, said it does not do any entertaining at Augusta.
The other four companies Burk is investigating did not respond to calls for comment.
Lynn Hecht Schafran, senior vice president at NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, says Bank of America was one of the first organizations to institute a policy barring company employees from entertaining at discriminatory clubs.
Hecht Schafran wrote a White Paper on this back in 1981.
However, she said, it’s easy for companies to get around such a policy.
"If you belong to an important club and it costs $50,000 to belong, the board ups your salary by $50,000," said Hecht Schafran. "It’s all hidden."
She said memberships at clubs like Augusta help executives to impress clients and seal deals.
"Boards want their executives to be hanging out there," she said.
Diane Starr, whose Augusta-based companies, Corporate Quarters and Masters Kitchen Kaddies, make about $2 million during Masters week, said corporations were continuing to spend this year but were trying to keep their activities under wraps.
When asked whether Bank of America or JP Morgan Chase were among her clients, she said: "Some of my clients have asked that I not comment on their business. Everyone is trying to keep a low profile. That may be because of Martha."
Jennifer Friedlin is a journalist based in New York. Karen Shugart is a journalist based in Georgia.
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