For writer and women’s activist Martha Burk, admission into the Augusta National Golf Club means more than just playing eighteen holes. She says that not allowing women into the club leaves them out of the important business decisions that take place on the golf course.
Speaking in Hale Auditorium at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business last night, Burk shared her perspective on efforts to include women in the Augusta National Golf Club, home to the Professional Golf Association’s Masters Tournament.
She said that business deals are made on the golf course, and by excluding women from the club, Augusta and its members have impeded women’s access to top-ranking corporate positions.
“I have women calling me, e-mailing me, saying this is trickling down to front-line management. This is hurting our careers,” Burk said.
The Augusta National Golf Club is comprised of many high-profile names in the business world.
The club’s membership list was kept secret until an anonymous fax was sent to Burk with the list of members, which includes chief executive officers of various companies, including American Express, Citigroup, the Coca-Cola Company, General Electric and SBC Communications. Burk then gave the list to USA Today, which subsequently published it.
“It’s an astounding list,” Burk said.
Despite a protest outside last year’s Masters Tournament and countless letters from Burk to sponsoring companies, Augusta National remains exclusive to men.
Burk said if racial minorities were being excluded instead of women, the CEOs involved would lose their jobs in fifteen minutes.
“Because it’s gender discrimination, it’s lesser. It doesn’t matter,” Burk said.
She said men have also suffered from workplace discrimination against women. She told stories of men being ostracized in the workplace for standing up for their female co-workers.
However, Jeffrey Mazzella, president of the Center for Individual Freedom, a non-government organization that protects individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, said there is no constitutional basis for Burk’s argument.
“Her effort was a complete and utter failure,” Mazzella said.
He questioned whether men should be allowed in all women’s organizations.
“Martha Burk can’t have it both ways,” Mazzella said.
“I would be shocked if she were to throw herself to the wolves again,” he added.
Yet Burk said she would continue her efforts in court instead of on the picket lines.
“I can’t tell you who (the potential litigation is) going to be against, but it’s going to be a familiar name,” Burk said. “It’s a long haul.”
MBA student John Heffington said he did not see how Burk could change the membership policies of Augusta National.
“Men of Augusta National are products of the time period in which they grew up,” Heffington said. “She’s trying to change a culture which cannot be changed at the present.”
Burk’s appearance was co-sponsored by University Housing’s Division of Student Affairs and the Business School.
“I think having a dialogue about women’s equity issues is consistent with the social justice work we do in residence education,” said Kevin Konecny, assistant director of Residence Education, a University Housing program.
Burk is the chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, which brings together about 200 national women’s groups and ten million women. She is also a syndicated columnist and has spoken about Augusta in many news outlets.
Her latest project is a book titled “Cult of Power: Sex Discrimination in Corporate America and What Can Be Done About it,” which details her experiences with Augusta and the Masters Tournament sponsors.
-Tiffany Teasley and Madeline Tzall contributed to this report