It was quietly a momentous day today.
Augusta National, home of “The Masters” golf tournament, finally announced that it had admitted women as members.
And, in so doing, it finally entered the late 20th Century.
(Yes, we’re in the 21st Century now. But these things take time.)
So, what finally caused the world’s most famous violently all-male club to finally throw in the towel?
Augusta National wasn’t saying.
But here’s our bet:
Our bet is that the decision was prompted by IBM’s decision last October to appoint Virginia Rometty as CEO.
Why might this decision have galvanised Augusta National into action?
Because it put the club in a very awkward position.
IBM is a big Masters sponsor.
Augusta National loves to invite CEOs of prestigious global corporations to become members.
Augusta National has invited the last three IBM CEOs to become members.
But now, because the CEO of the prestigious global company that sponsors the Masters, whose last three CEOs have been offered membership, happened to be a woman, the new IBM CEO would not just not be offered membership at Augusta–she wouldn’t be allowed on the grounds unless accompanied by a male member.
Well, that’s just plain embarrassing.
Not just because Virginia Rometty is obviously as deserving of membership as any current Augusta National member–a fact that had to be painfully clear to everyone in the club–but because this is the 21st Century.*
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Earlier this year, we suggested that Virginia Rometty’s appointment afforded Augusta an excellent opportunity to gracefully do the right thing. And four months after this year’s Masters, we’re happy to see that Augusta National has finally done just that.The club didn’t make Virginia Rometty its first female member, of course (that would have been too obvious). But we expect (and hope) that her invitation will be extended soon.
So here’s to IBM. Not just for becoming one of the world’s most successful companies, but maybe for doing something almost as difficult: Shaming Augusta National into finally admitting women.
And well done, Augusta National. It will be more fun to watch the Masters next year.
* The issue here is not whether it was illegal or unconstitutional for Augusta to refuse to admit women. It wasn’t. And it’s also not to suggest that men and women shouldn’t be able to have single-sex organisations. If that’s important or desired for a reasonable reason that isn’t discriminatory or disadvantaging or benighted, then single-sex is fine. The issue here is that Augusta’s membership criteria seems to be based at least in part on wealth and power in the business and political worlds. And in the decades since the club started operating, those worlds have become fully integrated. If there were Augusta Nationals for women, with similar power and wealth concentrated in the member base, then the perception of unfairness here might be less glaring. But to my knowledge, there isn’t.
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