Augusta members' firms under fire

By DAR HADDIX, UPI Business Correspondent   |   April 6, 2004 at 8:59 PM   |   0 comments

WASHINGTON, April 6 (UPI) -- The activist who tried to picket the all-male Augusta National Golf Club during last year's Masters tournament to protest the club's exclusion of women is now targeting companies whose executives belong to the club, and how the women who work for those companies are treated.

As the legendary Masters Golf Tournament begins this week at Augusta, Martha Burk and the organization she chairs, the National Council of Women's Organizations, are using the event as a springboard for a corporate campaign examining alleged sex discrimination against women who work in the financial sector.

"Women in the financial sector paint a very different picture than that we see in the slick annual reports and 'diversity' audits," Burk said.

Initially, the "Women on Wall Street" investigation will look at financial firms whose chief executives are members of Augusta, including Kenneth Chenault, chairman and chief executive of American Express; CEO Kenneth Lewis and James Hance, Jr., vice chairman and CFO of Bank of America; Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway; Sanford Weill, chairman of CitiGroup; Charles Johnson, CEO of Franklin Templeton; William Harrison, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase; Phillip Purcel III, chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley; and Arthur Ryan, chairman and CEO of Prudential. Other firms whose executives belong to the club, as well as firms whose executives belong to other exclusionary clubs, will be next in line, Burk told reporters.

American Express, Smith Barney (part of CitiGroup), Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Prudential, as well as Goldman Sachs, have all been named in sex discrimination lawsuits, NCWO said in a release Tuesday.

The campaign "was never about golf," said Jane Smith, chief executive officer of Business and Professional Women/USA and the BPW Foundation, at a press conference launching the initiative. "It has always been about power and keeping women out of the halls of power and business," she said.

At the press conference, staff handed out golf balls on which was printed: "Do you need two of these to play on Wall Street?"

"Everyone knows that high-level business is done in many places away from the office ... when corporate leaders are willing to publicly participate in activities that keep women out, it makes a very public statement about the value of women workers," Smith said.

The organization also announced Tuesday that it had enlisted the help of law firm Mehri & Skalet, PLLC. Founding partner Cyrus Mehri won two of the largest race discrimination class action suits in history, one against Texaco in 1997 for $176 million and one against Coca-Cola in 2001 for $192.5 million. He also created a report on the treatment of black coaches in the NFL that scandalized the organization into creating a workplace diversity program.

"[CEO] Charles B. Johnson's membership at Augusta is a personal one, not a company membership, and has nothing to do with our corporate policies, and Franklin Templeton is absolutely an equal opportunity employer," said Lisa Gallegos, spokesperson for Franklin Templeton.

Bank of America did not return calls. Spokespersons for American Express and Augusta National Golf Club declined to comment for this article.

Augusta has lost between $7 million and $12 million in Masters Tournament sponsorships for the second year in a row since the members' roster was made public, Burk said at the press conference.

"Complaints have come disproportionately from women in the financial sector, not incidentally a sector that is heavily represented at Augusta National," Burk said in a letter accompanying "equal opportunity" surveys sent out to the eight financial companies.

The equality surveys ask for a gender breakdown of the top 150 employees, stock options distribution, promotion opportunities, pay and policy data and other information to show that women are treated equally at the firms. The questionnaires also ask companies to indicate whether they had reimbursed or deducted expenses from male-only clubs, on the basis that "if your company and its executives treat expenses deriving from participation in male-only clubs such as Augusta National as a business expense, then your position that female executives have the full panoply of opportunities as their male counterparts has no credibility," she wrote. Results will be tallied into a "Diversity Report Card."

"Companies with nothing to hide should welcome the opportunity," Burk said at the press conference.

The initiative also established a Web site, www.augustadiscriminates.org, to collect information about potential sex discrimination from women at financial firms.

Several reports of discriminatory treatment, deemed "Hootieisms" after Augusta Club President Hootie Johnson, were detailed in a letter from Mehri to Burk released Tuesday. One woman from Merrill Lynch reported receiving items including a sex toy and obscene poem from a male broker in her office; the broker, she said, was not disciplined and in fact was later promoted. Another employee said the company steered the best accounts, as well as leads and referrals, away from women at the firm. At CitiGroup, a branch manager reportedly said women made better sales assistants because they were "lapdogs." A female employee at Morgan Stanley said she had dinner with her clients and some male colleagues, and was then sent home in a cab, while her colleagues took her clients to a strip club. And the company allegedly excluded women from networking opportunities including events and trips.

"If you are a member of this exclusionary, plainly sexist organization, what kind of message are you sending the female customer base and the presumably-majority female employee base? Are we not good enough to associate with you?" one female customer and employee wrote in a letter to Bank of America's chairman.

Smith suggested that companies are taking the buying power of women for granted. Women, Smith indicated, make up 48 percent of investors and purchase 83 percent of all products and services. "How can we really take these corporate leaders seriously ... they want our dollars but they don't want us in our private business circles," she said.

© 2004 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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