Break The Glass Ceiling With Your Golf Clubs

By Barbara Gutstadt, Founder and CEO, Women’s Golf and Travel Concierge, LLCbarbara signature-title-01

On the way up the corporate ladder, women continue to struggle to compete with men for positions in leadership. We’ve made strides in some areas—closing the gap in holding middle-management positions, for one—but women still struggle to reach that elusive top rung. According to a 2013 report by the non-profit research group Catalyst, only four percent of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are women.

It begs the question of what factors are keeping women out of the highest leadership roles. Over the past thirty years of my career, I’ve experienced and witnessed the challenges of advancing my career in the corporate world dominated by men. I’ve served as the upper-level executive as a CEO and President of a national healthcare company that I founded and later sold. I have sat in the boardroom as one of two female executives along with thirteen male counterparts.

To say that we need to level the playing field is an understatement. I learned early on that in order rise to the top, I had to “seize the day.” I closely evaluated the habits and performance of my male counterparts. There became a very noticeable difference in how we developed our client relationships. While my male associates spent time on the golf course nurturing relationships with prospective clients, I spent time attempting to do the same—in an office setting. Their golf-to-client ratio topped my client-to-meeting ratio. Realization that corporate golf was a game changer was my “ah ha” moment. I had uncovered this knowledge that I should play golf to attract, capture and retain clients, but I had to learn how to play the game—and quickly.While women currently comprise one fifth of the 25.7 million U.S. golfers counted in a 2011 survey by the National Golf Foundation, I operate under the premise that if more women played corporate-golf we’d see a direct correlation of more women moving up the corporate ladder into leading roles.

GET NOTICED FROM WITHIN

When there are promotion opportunities, women are often overlooked due to one simple factor: access. Having the opportunity to spend time with high-level executives is paramount in them getting to know you and your values. However, that opportunity is not always readily available. You can be sure that your male counterparts are seizing that opportunity through the game of golf. Corporate golf is a perfect way for your direct boss or higher-ups to get to know you better—whether playing in a charity tournament or playing in a foursome. That doesn’t mean you go out on the course to talk about your sales figures or boast about new business you’ve snagged. Simply getting out there enables decision makers to learn more about you—from your ability to remain calm and composed to something as telling as honesty in scorekeeping. These subtleties matter.

JOIN A WOMEN’S GOLF ASSOCIATION

It may sound cliché, but golf can help you network your way to the top. Successful women CEOs know the struggles you face every day. By joining a women’s golf association, you are connecting to a sisterhood. There are multitudes of opportunities for professional growth in a women’s club—from getting paired with a successful executive who inspires you, to finding potential clients.

As a former owner of a financial services plannIng firm, I joined a women’s golf association. I quickly found many doors opened to me that I wasn’t even aware existed. I started off by incorporating golf strategies into my business development arsenal rather than actually playing the game. I did this through sponsorships with the local chapters. As a sponsor, I was invited to speak to the golf members and chose the topics addressing women and retirement. Additionally, I sponsored Hole In One contests or offered great golf gadgets imprinted with my company logo as giveaways at tournaments. I did these and other golf strategies throughout the year until I was comfortable enough to actually a game of golf. Within that first year, I enjoyed numerous new client relationships and continual referrals. Golf grew my financial services practice hands down!

TAKE LESSONS

Many successful executives live by the mantra “failing to plan is planning to fail” and for good reason. In business, releasing a product to market before the kinks have been worked out is a recipe for disaster. The same is true in golf. Before you set foot on the tee box, you should know that you can get the ball going in the right direction to avoid huge embarrassment. Start by taking lessons from a golf pro. Many pros actually prefer teaching women to play the game because of our sheer determination to learn all the rules and techniques.

It’s not all about your handicap, however. You also need to learn proper golf etiquette, golf lingo, proper attire, and the rules of the game. Playing fair and showing proper etiquette will show clients that you are trustworthy and fair. That’s a key opportunity that many people overlook. It’s not just about playing the game of golf—it’s about building trust.

Part of the reason more women don’t take up golf is intimidation. But, that need not be the case. Starting off in a scramble format can be the best way for beginners to feel comfortable. As you improve, your confidence will grow.

As I’ve learned throughout the last three decades, playing golf has proved beneficial in all aspects of my life by helping me stay physically fit, make new friends, add a new dimension in my personal life and enjoy new experiences through my travels and golf excursions. But I know the one facet of my life that has been impacted the most is in my career. I’m confident that as other business women realize how golf can help climb the ladder, we’ll see more women make it to the top rung of success.

For more information about Barbara Gutstadt’s speaking engagements, please call 800.249.2496