The NextWomen Book Review: "Even Par. How Golf Helps Women Gain the Upper Hand in Business"
If Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM, Can’t Get on the Golf Course, What is the Average Businesswoman to Do?
Virginia Rometty’s exclusion from the member ranks of Augusta is a sad commentary on gender equity in 2012, but it belies a much bigger problem—the exclusion of women from the entrenched social networks that are key to business success.
According to a study by Catalyst, the leading research organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and business, 46% of businesswomen cite “exclusion from informal networks” as the single biggest impediment to their ability to reach the top—and the informal network cited most frequently is golf.
“Even Par. How Golf Helps Women Gain the Upper Hand in Business”, a guide to help women get “on course” and use golf for business success, addresses this issue. Published by 85 Broads, Even Par was written by Leslie Andrews who achieved success in the Fortune 500 world and as an entrepreneur, as both a business and golf professional.
When The NextWomen asked me to review Even Par, I had mixed emotions. One the one hand, I am an absolute “business management-leadership-women in business” book junkie; on the other, I do not enjoy sports. But the mythos that surrounds “golf course deals” has always intrigued me so I leapt in with average expectations.
Even Par wants to paint a picture of golf as the best way to break through career barriers for women and Andrews and Wax lay out their case in a straight forward linear style.
As someone who has moved up the ranks pretty far in the last 17 years, I have to be honest and say that never once was I invited to play golf by anyone. But this idea that golf is a career aid is not new.
My mother suggested that I take golf lessons early in my own career. As I was working in China, I also thought it might be good not to embarrass myself in case any of my Chinese customers or colleagues invited me to play, which they didn’t. As the authors point out, maybe that’s partly my fault for not leaving enough clues to my interest in golf.
I also appreciate that the book was short and easy to read in one sitting. Like most working women, I do not have enough hours in the day to read everything that I want. I applaud authors who can be succinct, especially for this type of career guide book. I found the language and style to be clean and precise, and not so sports metaphor driven, like many books that talk about the relationships between business and sports can be.
One of the most insightful sections of Even Par was the chapter on the “Business Benefits of Golf”.
It seems common sense but when Andrews writes about how being on a golf course for four hours really enables you to learn about a person’s character in ways virtually unmatched in other settings it did make me do an “Ahhhh hah” aloud.
Now if I could have leveraged this to really learn the motivations of my boss and her boss in past lives then I would have taken advantage of it for sure!
The rest of Even Par more of a mixed bag. While, the “Business Benefits” chapter was good and informative, the “Difference between Girls and Boys” chapter was uninspiring and I felt like I’ve read about this many times before. Filled with good advice on getting started in golf and making sure you don’t embarrass yourself, at times I wasn’t sure what audience this was for – new graduates and early career women or mid-career women looking to break into the top echelons of corporate life?
I would have liked to learn more about Andrews and her career at ESPN and as an instructor beyond the three pages of introduction. For me, it would have been really interesting to read more detailed stories about how women used golf to really get ahead in business pulled from Andrews’ golf-career experiences, those of her students and other women she’d interviewed. I think this would have helped show how golf helped at each of the various stages of one’s career.
Ultimately, while a pleasant read I don’t think Even Par completely succeeds in its mission. The book is great for practical tips on how to embrace golf and work it into your life, but I would have preferred more about why I should want to embrace golf.
For entry-level career women, Even Par is a fun read with some practical advice, but for anyone who’s already well into their career, Even Par fails to convince that playing golf is essential to their careers. For me, I’ve had a pretty successful career without golf
“The biggest informal network is golf”. This statement (p. 117) pretty much sums up why women should play golf: The exclusion from informal networks was defined as one of the biggest impediments for women to reach their career goals by several studies (p. 5-7). So women eager to work their way up the ladder should start entering the world of caddies, tees and holes. It’s as simple as that to explain why we needed Leslie Andrews’ book “Even Par. How Golf Helps Women Gain the Upper Hand in Business”, telling us how to do so and to succeed at it.
Leslie Andrews, who has been playing golf for ages and is successfully leading her own company (GolfingWomen), gives advice on how to become a female golfer, providing excellent and very detailed information about all sorts of requirements, first steps, avoidable mistakes and situations that women might encounter prior to or while being on the green.
I especially liked her encouraging style that really helps to reduce prejudice like “it’s a men’s game” or “it’s probably too difficult to start / get invited / find the right playing partners / succeed”.
Moreover, the book touches a very important point: Networking and making connections should never be underestimated by female entrepreneurs, and we should push ourselves as often as possible to overcome the well-known urge to just go home and not expose ourselves to yet another competitive environment after a long day at work.
The book also opened my eyes about the specific function of golf as one of the – if not the one and only – top business sports. I am eager to admit that I had underestimated this phenomenon so far (maybe because golf doesn’t have the same importance in Germany – please correct me if I am wrong fellow readers, I simply don’t know and should start looking into it right away!).
There’s one thing I’d like to add, though. In her book, Leslie Andrews describes a direct relation between playing golf and improving career opportunities. For many working environments, I totally believe her. However, I perceived the situations she describes as typical for rather big and somewhat conservative companies (for example, she mentions dress codes and big, company-organized client events). So even if I underestimated the importance of golf, I am still not completely convinced that it will help you in 100% of all working environments.
My suggestion: Thoroughly assess the importance of golf in your very own specific working environment.
And if several of your business contacts or of the people you’d like to meet play golf – or, if you have to admit that the thought of trying it has crossed your mind more than once before – then run and get your own dose of Leslie Andrews!
Even Par is a short book about the role of golf in advancing women’s corporate careers. The book is written from the perspective of its author and her experience with golf outings during her marketing career in Corporate America.
According to Andrews, “golf is the new MBA”.
She presents a number of statistics pointing to the fact that a large majority of corporate women are excluded from informal networks.
Since 90% of CEO’s play golf, the book argues that it essential for women to learn the sport in order to better the chance of climbing the ladder.
In doing so, golf is presented as an investment rather than an expense. It is also presented as a way of getting to know several important characteristics of your peer’s personalities while having fun. Honesty, risk taking ability, sense of humor, and ability to play in a team are some of the attributes that can be assessed on the course.
About half of the book is devoted to outlining the overall nuts and bolts of golf including rules, terminology and equipment needed. Even Par aims to target women who are currently not golf players. I would argue that the author’s attempt is to generate interest among corporate women who might not have thought of golf as a way to improve existing business relationships and create new business opportunities.
On the positive side:
- The book simplifies the 34 rules and hundreds of permutations within each rule to a straightforward nine-step method that, if followed, will prevent you from making a fool of yourself at the course. I really enjoyed chapter six. In addition, in less than ten pages you learn the initial golf rules that will help you have fun without needing to be a pro.
- The book makes a point that corporate golf is not about perfection. It is about playing the course and building relationships regardless of the ability level.
- The book touches on the psychological differences between men and women and how these differences affect the perception of what makes a good golf player.
What could be better for next edition?
Disclaimer: I currently don’t play golf and I have left Corporate America.
- The book lacks passion. As a reader, it isn’t clear to me why golf is fun. More than looking for another activity to increase my business success, I look for activities that call on my passions. In order to elicit passion, it would be fun if the author were to spend a chapter telling us a bit about the sport, its origins and its logic. In one word, what makes golf fun? what makes golf interesting?
- Golf is presented as a paradoxical sport. On the one hand, I am supposed to be having fun playing a nine or an 18-hole course. On the other hand, I need to pay attention to attitudes and behaviors, potential business opportunities, outfits and rules. The sport is presented more as a constraining rather than a liberating activity. Once again, besides looking for a networking opportunity, why should I play golf? There might be other reasons to have a non-corporate woman be interested on such investment of time, energy and money.
Personally, the book generated an overall interest in golf. Knowing that I don’t have to be perfect in order to join a golf club is motivating. On the other hand, the image I have of the sport remained the same: a bit of an elitist activity where networking and etiquette override passion.
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