The Royal and Ancient Golf Club is to vote on admitting women members. About time, it’s only taken more than 250 years.
Well the R&A, as it’s known, is not just any old golf club. It’s the boss one, the top one, the club that sets the laws for everybody else and organises Britain’s biggest golfing event, the Open Championship. And, yes, it’s taken a while, but better late than never.
For my sins I play golf – I’m almost too shamefaced to admit it in this context – and it was only after I’d become a member of one club that I noticed a painted line across the floor of the bar. When I inquired what it signified, I was told that women could not cross.
What this meant in practice, was that they could not get near the picture window, overlooking the course with a fine view. They could sit on the balcony outside, but if it rained or was too cold, tough – they had to congregate in a dingy, back area of the lounge.
What was puzzling about this is that the women accepted it. The club had a vibrant ladies section composed of people who were seemingly happy to be treated as second-class in return for being allowed in at all.
It’s not just golf. I went to a City dining club for lunch. There were three men and one woman. Afterwards, we went upstairs for coffee. The room was packed. There were some empty chairs at the far end, and we made to go for them. Then, one of the men, the member, pulled us back and pointed to the carpet. Sure enough, there was a strip of tape – that part was men only. So two of us stood, and two sat, while all the time, there were tables nearby going begging.
The club had women members, who, same as their golfing counterparts, were apparently unfazed by the discrimination. As with the golfers, they were just grateful for the opportunity to join.
It’s to be hoped that the new female R&A intake (assuming the ballot is in favour) are not treated in such a prejudicial fashion or if they are, they do not accept it. The two behaviours are as bad as each other, both paying lip service to the notion that theirs is a relationship of equals.
It must be the full hog or nothing – a half-way solution is divisive and demeaning. What always amazes is the way women today are prepared to play by men’s rules. Reject, rebel, and cross the line, just as your Suffragette forbears did. What’s the worst that can occur, that a woman is hauled before the beaks and expelled because she dared to sit at a table reserved for men?
Imagine the public embarrassment and opprobrium that would result. No organisation in the 21 century, dependent on commercial partnerships and good public relations, would ever dare take that risk – women are pushing at an open door, if only they started believing it.
This is no more true than in Britain’s boardrooms. According to a new study, one in five directors of the top 100 listed companies are female. This is deemed “impressive” progress by the government, which when I last looked filled nearly all its senior jobs with men.
Women, too, are prepared to go along with this view, refusing to go down the quotas route and putting faith in men to get there in the end. I simply refuse to believe this will result. Give the blokes some wriggle-room and they will grab it.
Tellingly, the same survey found that while women accounted for 25% of non-executive directors of the leading 100 companies, only 7% of executive directors and 4% of chief executives are female. In other words, the gender balance among those who actually run our biggest businesses is completely skewed – women have made virtually negligible headway.
Yes, among those who advise companies the proportion of women is larger, but this, let us not forget is advice, these are non-executive directors, once described by that (male) titan of commerce, Tiny Rowland, as being about as useful as “baubles on a Christmas tree.”
Women should become members of the R&A, but without compromise, minus real or imaginary lines on the floor. They should serve on the main committee and aim to be captain. They must insist that those Open venues that still prohibit women members – Royal St George’s, Troon and Muirfied – drop the barrier or are removed from the tournament roster (arguments that it’s up to the individual clubs, and that it pays the Open to move around them all, simply do not wash).
If a body like the R&A is prepared to revolutionise, then that should be a cue for all-male bastions everywhere. And that includes the hierarchy of British companies. There is no excuse any more, for the institutions and corporations themselves, for their male bosses – and for women.