By Michael Williams, Contributor, Golf Business
Four years ago, diversity efforts in the golf industry were nascent and mostly symbolic.
The most effective work in getting new audiences into the game was being done by local non-profits that worked long and hard to scratch out an existence while bringing minorities and women into the game.
With the double social tsunami that was the George Floyd murder and the Covid pandemic, the collective conscience of the industry was sparked, and DEI initiatives began to emerge across the landscape like summer mushrooms.
But now it seems to me that the wave has crested, and there is a creeping return to the apathy about DEI that was the previous norm. Even more concerning though is the sense that there is a resistance to DEI efforts as politically motivated virtue signaling or even “reverse discrimination”.
I was recently in the audience for a seminar entitled Introduction to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that was attended by golf industry professionals. I was encouraged by the number of attendees that had registered from across the nation to learn about the topic.
To be fair, I had my own criticisms of the presentation; it was at times too clinical and analytical and at other times it was preachy and judgmental. As a result, some of the participants doubted the need for such sessions, and others expressed doubt about the validity of the concept of DEI.
While the audience mostly appreciated the exercise, it felt like an opportunity lost to inform an essential audience about the practical importance of DEI.
The phrase “DEI” has been around long enough in the national radar to have been twisted and contorted to serve a variety of individuals and organizations that have only their own interests at heart. To be understood, appreciated, and properly implemented, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a term that needs to be accurately and appropriately defined.
When I talk about these ideas, I try to lead with three things. First, I let my audience know that there is no intent to accuse or indict any particular person or persons. People who are in a defensive crouch from the outset of a conversation are unlikely to be open to new information.
I also try to develop a shared understanding for terms that are widely misused. Often, I’ll take the words diversity, equity and inclusion out of play and replace them with language that accurately expresses the principles while leaving aside terminology that has acquired harmful baggage.
Most importantly, I point out the practical importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. In my mind, this simply translates to making sure that the industry is considering the widest possible talent pool when it comes to hiring and promotion, and that it seeks the widest possible audience for its products. As I say in seminars and to anyone else that will listen, DEI isn’t your ticket to heaven, it’s your ticket to success.
The leadership of golf deserves credit for establishing efforts like Make Golf Your Thing, which includes programs that promote expansion of the talent base and of the customer base. But owners and operators are where these principles live and thrive, not in the hot house of association meetings and symposiums.
This country was founded on words and ideas, some of which have been realized and others that remain aspirational. As economic realities confront owner/operators, it’s important that we all remember that diversity, equity and inclusion are just another way of expressing the higher ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that we celebrate on holidays but benefit from daily. Even if DEI as a phrase begins to fade, the ideals it represents must endure.