Why More Female Executives Don’t Play Golf—and Why That’s a Problem | Kanebridge News
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Why More Female Executives Don’t Play Golf—and Why That’s a Problem

According to a new study, women miss out on a lot of networking opportunities by not playing the game

Mon, Apr 17, 2023 8:40amGrey Clock 3 min

Female executives face all sorts of barriers when it comes to using one of the great networking tools for business: golf.

That’s according to a new study, identifying some of the benefits female executives derive from playing golf, as well as the reasons more female executives don’t golf. The study’s authors conducted a content analysis, reviewing almost 100 articles from academic journals, trade publications, general-interest publications and golf associations.

The Wall Street Journal spoke with Deborah Gray, a professor of marketing at Central Michigan University and one of the study’s co-authors, about the research. Here are edited excerpts of the conversation.

WSJ: What were your overall conclusions?

DR. GRAY: Golf is so much different than other networking activities. The game takes hours, and gives you a chance to learn about someone’s life and personality. You learn how they react when things are not going well. You also get a sense of their integrity by seeing if they are honest on the course. Not surprisingly, many executives say their careers benefit from playing golf. We found one article stating that 71% of Fortune 1000 CEOs reported doing business with someone they met on the golf course, and another article that said 80% of Fortune 500 executives say golf has helped their career.

But only about a quarter of all golfers are women. That’s a problem because women’s careers may benefit just as much as their male counterparts. By not golfing, women not only miss out on the experience but also conversations about the experience. They also miss out on the chance to be more visible within their organisation, converse with decision makers and put themselves in a better position for promotions.

WSJ: Your literature review also found that men and women often network differently.

DR. GRAY: Academic researchers have found women’s networks tend to include people who are more like themselves, whereas men’s networks tend to be less homogeneous and more strategic and include more powerful people. One way men create more diverse networks is through golf. They connect with business associates over shared interest rather than a common background. Women should do that, too.

WSJ: What are some of the barriers female executives may face when it comes to using golf as a networking tool?

DR. GRAY: Women often have unequal access to leisure time. Female executives may be caring for children and ageing parents in addition to their professional responsibilities. Consequently, they may prioritize paid work during business hours and skip networking opportunities. That’s especially true for golf because it is very time consuming. Playing 18 holes of golf can take four to five hours.

WSJ: Are there any barriers specific to the game of golf?

DR. GRAY: Female executives may also spend more time worrying that they are not strong enough or good enough to play with male colleagues. But most people are just average golfers. According to the USGA, the average man’s handicap is 14.1 and the average women’s handicap is 28, which is a long way from being a scratch golfer.

Those numbers from the USGA also suggest that the average woman swings her club 12 more times over a round of golf, which isn’t a lot of waiting time over 18 holes, especially if the ball is hit right down the fairway. A common misconception is that higher-handicap golfers, often assumed to be women, are slower golfers. But golfers with low handicaps can be slow, too. The key for any golfer is knowing when to pick up the ball.

But the idea that women play slower has been used by private golf clubs to exclude women from playing during popular times on the golf course, like Saturday morning, though the practice is now changing. Other parts of the game can be updated to be more inclusive. For instance, the forward-most tee is still frequently called the woman’s tee, though some courses now suggest that someone’s handicap dictates where they tee off. Male executives shouldn’t just assume their female colleagues will tee off at a different spot.

WSJ: Aren’t more women starting to play golf?

DR. GRAY: Major golf associations, including the LPGA, are running marketing campaigns to increase the number of women playing golf. These associations are also trying to get more girls to start playing the game. Girls now make up about 36% of all golfers ages 6 to 17 years old. But corporate America could definitely do more to get women into the game.

WSJ: What can companies do to encourage more female golfers?

DR. GRAY: Companies could teach employees more about networking and include golf as part of their training. They could even help employees evaluate gaps in their network and identify key people who can help them accomplish their career goals. I tell my business students to think about a round of golf like any other business meeting, and consider their objectives beforehand. After all, few people would go into a meeting without an agenda. Companies could also sponsor golf lessons at local courses. The key is that it happens during the workday, just like other professional development activities, encouraging people who tend to skip after-hour events to participate. Lessons and clinics also provide opportunities for employee team building, so there are many reasons for employers to think about sponsoring golf lessons.


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At the World Plogging Championship, contestants have lugged in tires, TVs and at least one Neapolitan coffee maker

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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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