Could women's golf lessons be a hole-in-one for equality?

Last week The Times reported that senior women at professional services firm EY feared being excluded at work as a lot of the professional networking between male colleagues happens on the golf course.

The firm reportedly offered a group of female associates golf lessons as a networking opportunity, thereby giving them access to the  social opportunities on the course.

For seeming to take an “if you can’t beat them join them” approach to gender equality, the move has not been well received.

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Aoife O'Sullivan head of people at marketing company Greenlight told HR magazine: “EY’s approach to addressing female networking ops by providing golf lessons, so female colleagues ‘catch up’ with male peers, shows a clear lack of knowledge as to what it means to be a truly inclusive employer.”

To progress in equity and inclusion, O’Sullivan said employers need to address the failures of the status quo.

“It is not about looking for perceived failings in those inherently discriminated against within the white male dominated workplace,” she said, advising that the boardroom is the place to start.

“It is here [the boardroom] that HR and L&D leaders can educate the executive level on the unconscious, institutional & societal barriers, which hold women back from achieving parity with men.

“A well thought out training strategy that brings awareness to these deep-rooted biases as well as creating a team of gender equality champions, to challenge stereotypical gender norms and embrace a different understanding of what constitutes a leader, can help in equalising the playing field (or green, if you will).

Diversity and inclusion consultant Toby Mildon similarly rejected a ‘culture fit’ approach rather than challenging the norm.

"If every single business negotiation took place on a golf course – by all means invite everybody to brush up on their golf skills. However, in my experience, not all negotiations happen on the golf course,” he told HR magazine.

“I'm in a wheelchair and can't lift a pen let alone swing a golf club – does that mean I am also excluded from these negotiations that happen on the golf course?

“By saying that women need golf lessons is divisive and suggests that if you don't play golf then you are not a culture fit for the team.”

Instead of driving a culture fit, Mildon suggested companies formulate plans to close any gender pay gaps they may have, and to normalise flexible working.

“Measure people on output and not time spent at their desk,” he said.

Mildon also advised HR to create inclusive career development frameworks.

“This could include proactive internal marketing/communications to encourage people to join who might otherwise not put themselves forward,” he said.


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