I graduated from the University of San Diego with a “utopia mentality.” In college, everyone was simply working together for the same goal, regardless of gender. Nobody was trying to outdo the other. Classmates weren’t threatened by each other. I was just there doing my thing with friends who backed me, professors who wanted me to discover my true potential and a general surrounding of support and positive vibes. The universal goal was to graduate. Period. I would soon find out that the world does not work that way.
Growing up with two brothers, the “girly girl” in me ran dormant for most of my childhood. I didn’t think twice about baiting my own hook, cleaning the fish if I expected dinner and battling Ro-Sham-Bo for the front of the dirt bike when our dad took us riding. I was even OK with having to change my own oil and single handedly rotate my tires before my dad would let me take my driving test.
When I started working at Steele Canyon GC right out of college (where I would earn my PGA Membership), I was surprised and confused when people warned me about being careful working in a male dominated industry. I was raised by parents who did not see gender. They saw PEOPLE. Or, in our case, CHILDREN. We were human beings, not son or daughter. Because of that, I too, saw people instead of gender. So I shrugged off the “warnings” and sashayed into my first day of work with excitement and enthusiasm.
The forebodings from well-intentioned people were somewhat accurate and I wasn’t quite prepared for what was to come. Throughout my career I have, indeed experienced uncomfortable situations, been looked up and down with side eye, smirks and snide remarks. There were occasional moments where I just stood there, eyes blinking quickly, as I asked myself if I just heard what was said correctly because, I mean…they really couldn’t have said that, right? Here’s the thing: a lot of this was also at the hands of women. Yep. Women.
Now, many of the women I’ve worked with have been wonderful and I won’t allow the minority to cloud my judgment. However, what they say is very true: “You can receive 100 compliments but the one negative comment will keep you up at night.”
While I’ve had amazing male mentors, bosses, co-workers, playing partners, swing instructors, clients, agents, producers and editors, I think I naively expected that each individual would be treated as just that: an individual. Not someone lumped into a category or immediately judged on the spot and deemed “enter adjective here.”
Urged to dig deeper, I realized that I have, indeed experienced sexism in the work place. But not necessarily from co-workers. It’s been more by the public who don’t know me. Sure, there have been underlying tones here and there, or “uncomfortable situations” like at trade shows where the guys went to strip clubs while I would hang at the hotel with my room service.
Let’s not forget my experience working with a certain producer during my time as an on-course commentator. It was made clear I wasn’t his first choice for hire. I don’t even think I was his 372nd choice. Instead of putting on his big boy polyester pants and finding a way for both of us to work well together, he spewed temper tantrums in my direction and basically pretended I didn’t exist. (Apparently, he did not get the memo that I am a delight.) If I ever failed, his point was made - I was not the right one to hire. But his attitude toward me was not because I was a woman. I simply wasn’t his choice. Does that make him sexist? No. It simply makes him a jerk.
While I was never blatantly called “honey” or “sweet cheeks", there was always the underlying assumption that I was the “shop girl”, as if it was unfathomable that I could actually be a golf professional. Was that an insult? I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be. Without ill intent, the perception of women in golf was a product of the industry’s environment, based on what was known to be true up until that point. It didn’t make these men “bad.” I just pray that as our society shifts into a much healthier place when it comes to viewing women and those who have merely been a product of their environments have the open mindedness to embrace viewing women in a more equal light. We are not born with our belief systems. We acquire them. It is up to us to continue to strive to make sure our belief systems are not hurtful to others, remain fair, truthful, unbiased and equal.
Take for instance that late afternoon when I was just about to close up the golf shop in the golf shop and a gentleman sauntered in with a Rules question. One of the outside services kids was on the phone calling his mother for a ride home. As the man approached the counter I asked if I could help him. Never making eye contact, he motioned to the kid on the phone and informed me that he had a question for “the pro”. He clearly had no desire to speak to me so I let him wait... And wait… as I proceeded with my closing duties.
When the kid finally got off the phone the man quickly stated that he had a Rules question and that the day’s match was riding on the outcome. The kid pointed to me and said, “I’m a cart guy. You need to ask the golf professional. She’s right there.” The man looked at me with a blank expression on his face, turned on his heel and walked out in embarrassment. He came back a few weeks later, apologized and from that point forward treated me like any other member of the professional staff.
So, Mr. There’s No Way A Girl Could Be A Golf Professional walked into the golf shop with his belief system based on his experiences and from then on, his behavior reflected a healthier and more respectful approach. Good for him. That’s all any of us can hope for.
I think my favorite recollection, however, was a man who was upset about slow play on the golf course. He was a regular and it was common for him to give the male golf professionals high fives as they debated which football team was going to make it to the Super Bowl that year. The only time he ever spoke to me was when he came in to yell at someone about the pace of play and I was the easiest target.
In the middle of his tirade I was so desperate to diffuse the situation any way I could I reached under the counter and pulled out a box of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies and offered him one. It flustered him to the point that his yelling was replaced by quick stuttering. He declined the cookie. I asked if he minded if I ate mine and he “graciously” allowed it. As I ate the cookie while he stood there blankly, I encouraged him to continue. Now, it’s not a scientific fact, but I’m pretty confident that it’s physically impossible to yell at someone as they are enjoying a Girl Scout cookie. He looked at me with a blank stare and head cocked just a bit as his voice trailed off. He then slowly and aimlessly simply shuffled out of the golf shop and that was it. But from that day forward he at least acknowledged me when he came in and, even though I never did get a high five, that’s something, right?
Instead of making the workplace an environment based on gender expectations, let’s focus on the expectation that everyone (including ourselves) will adhere to basic human kindness, compassion and empathy. Let’s bring back the college mentality. We are all classmates in this thing called life, helping each other get through. We are all here doing the best we can until we “graduate”.