It’s About Association and the Message

Bubba Watson won the Masters yesterday with a great, no Amazing, shot.  It was a fitting end to a great day where Oosthuizen had a double eagle to put him in contention.

Unfortunately, behind the scenes there has been a lot of chatter on Augusta’s all male policy and IBM’s new CEO Virginia Rometty.  For years IBM has been a sponsor of the Masters and IBM’s CEO has been given an invitation to the club. That is, until this year. Why? Because IBM’s new CEO isn’t a man. I think this poses some serious challenges for the membership of Augusta National Golf Course, which includes notables such as;

  • Bill Gates
  • Warren Buffet
  • Jack Welch
  • Pete Coors
  • and Sam Palmisano (Former IBM CEO and Rometty’s predecessor who hand picked Rometty)

Even more than for the members of Augusta, I think this poses some serious challenges for Virginia Rometty and IBM.

This open letter from Eileen Burbidge on TechCrunch summed it up nicely.

Dear Ms. Rometty,

Even though I have not had the pleasure of even meeting you, I was pleased when you were appointed CEO in January – expressly because your predecessor and still Chairman Sam Palmisano established that this was because you “earned it; zero to do with any progressive social policies” which is fantastic. I was pleased to see it established that you earned your new position and were given the recognition for your contributions to the company – and expressly not hindered because of your gender. I don’t believe myself to have ever been hindered by my gender in my career, and I’d like there to be more public examples of this.

With all of this and the fact that I have a great deal of respect for you established, I simply want to ask you why you and your company continue to sponsor the U.S. Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Country Club.

In addition to your company’s tremendous history of leadership in establishing gender and social equality in its workforce, your appointment as CEO continued to demonstrate IBM as a merit-led corporation. However, your company’s sponsorship of this tournament – and refusal to comment publicly on its membership policies is disappointing. Your silence is deafening.

It suggests that you feel the commercial benefits of sponsoring this tournament outweigh the matters gender equality and self-respect. Even if you “don’t care much” about golf personally (it has been reported that you do occasionally play),the fact that you will be the first in a long string of IBM CEOs to not be awarded an honorary membership – strictly due to your gender – and are seemingly OK with this, is deflating.

I suspect one reason you have achieved a lot throughout your career and will continue to do so is because you speak your mind and follow your convictions. I can also appreciate that you don’t need to do anything for the “women in tech” cause, for other women, or just to be a role model. You should obviously do things firstly for yourself or your shareholders, and to that end, I can also imagine that you may not see it as a part of your corporate responsibility to deal with matters that do not have direct impact on shareholder and employee value. I would like to point out that this does. Your shareholders – and surely at least 50% of your workforce (if not more) would welcome your statement on the situation, even an implicit one made by choosing not to sponsor this tournament any longer, and to instead focus your company’s resources and marketing budget on other events.

I humbly submit that you should take a stand for what your company represents and how it represents itself. By being one of three major television sponsors, you endorse this tournament, its host venue and its current membership policies – along with its snub to you personally and professionally. I wish you would make a statement and clarify your own views about this.

I put to you a question that was asked of Augusta National’s chairman Billy Payne: What do you say to your granddaughters? And extend that to: What are you saying to your female employees? Beyond those groups, what do you say to your sons or grandsons when they ask why you didn’t say anything?

Unlike other IBM and major CEOs before you there is no indication that you will be granted honorary membership at Augusta National – on the sole basis of being a woman. Out of respect for yourself, women like you, women like me, women who work in your organization, and men and women to come, please establish that this is no longer acceptable in 2012.

Respectfully yours,
Eileen Burbidge

Augusta can have what ever policy they want. This isn’t about Augusta changing their policy. It’s about IBM supporting organizations that don’t align with their values.

Much of the arguments supporting IBM have centered around this being a business decision and that Rometty’s responsibility is to the shareholders and taking a political stance is not in the company’s best interest or that of shareholders.  I submit, this is a bullshit argument. Precedent has been set for years. Almost every Tiger Woods sponsor pulled their sponsorships from Tiger after his infidelity become public.  Why the discrimination of women wouldn’t fall into this category is perplexing to me.

Augusta’s policy has been blatantly revealed.  Augusta National has always given honorary  membership to the CEO of IBM, regardless of WHO it was. Now, they’ve stopped the policy because the CEO is NOW a woman.  In essence, Augusta has flip-flopped. It’s not that they aren’t giving it to the CEO of IBM, it’s they arent’ giving it to a woman. If the next IBM CEO is a man, he will get an invitation.

IBM has a tough call to make and so does Virginia. She and IBM have to ask themselves, what and who do they want their brand to be associated with? Just as sponsors had to determine if Tiger’s behavior was worthy of sponsorship, Augustas behavior should be under the same scrutiny.

If infidelity and the objectification of women is not worthy of sponsorshop, is the discrimination and exclusion of woman worthy of it?

It’s all about association. We ARE who we hang out with.


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