How should IBM handle Augusta National’s ‘no women’ rule?

The golf club has yet to offer IBM CEO, Virginia Rometty, a membership. If you were IBM’s PR counsel, how would you handle the situation?

I don’t know where to begin with this one. I’m astounded.

Did you know Augusta National Golf Club does not allow women to join as members? They didn’t allow African American members until 1990.

Did something happen last night? Did I wake up in 1912? Do things like this really happen in 2012?

The reason it has come to my attention is because IBM, a major PGA tournament sponsor, promoted Virginia “Ginni” Rometty to CEO in January.

She’s not allowed to join the club.

What’s a company to do? Should it continue to give money to an organization that won’t allow its top executive to join, or pull back the sponsorship?

This isn’t the first time IBM, along with Toyota and Honda, has pressured Augusta. The last time was in 1990 when each company pulled their television advertising during the PGA tournament. That year’s tournament took place at the then whites-only Shoal Creek outside of Birmingham, Ala.

Augusta National subsequently ended its racial barrier, citing both PR and ethical reasons.

But it won’t invite Rometty to join, even though it invited the last four chief executives of IBM who were all male.

Billy Payne, the club’s chairman, said it’s not up to him and the executive team, but the club’s members:

“…all issues of membership have been and are subject to private deliberations of the members. That statement remains accurate and that remains my statement. … we don’t talk about our private deliberations. … we especially don’t talk about them when a named candidate is part of the question.”

We don’t know the “named candidate” is Rometty, but all national media assumes it is. No one will comment on whether it will join the 21st century and invite her.

In the meantime, IBM must figure out if potentially alienating customers outweighs the advantages of being part of such a prominent sports event.

If it were me, I wouldn’t want my company to support an organization that is so deliberately discriminatory, no matter how steeped it is in tradition. It’s not about money, PR or awareness. It’s about what’s right.

Then again, I’m a woman, so of course I’m biased.

What would you do?

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article ran on Spin Sucks.

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Topics: PR

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