Women in turf encourage others to follow in their footsteps
Part III in an ongoing series about labor issues affecting the golf industry.
Standing in a ditch and covered in muck, Miranda "Moe" Robinson looks the part of a golf course superintendent. As a graduate of the short course at the University of Guelph with nearly 15 years of experience in the golf industry under her belt, she also has the know-how needed to succeed in a man's world.
That still doesn't stop golfers at Summerlea Golf Club in Ontario from reaching some pretty far-flung conclusions about her ability or what she's doing on a golf course in the first place.
"I'm clearly a maintenance worker, but golfers consistently ask me if I have beer in my cart," Robinson (@Moes_cakes on Twitter) said.
"The last time someone asked me, I said 'are you (expletive deleted) kidding me?' If you say that to me once, you'll never say it again."
In all seriousness, Robinson said she can't complain too much. She tells stories of other women who've faced much worse in their pursuit of a career as a superintendent. She also tells stories of other industries where male counterparts were far less welcoming to women than they are in golf, such as the automotive industry.
"That was the worst job I've ever had. It was 1,000 times worse than this industry," she said of her time in the auto industry.
"I feel like I'm one of the lucky one. I haven't had the same issues a lot of women have had. I don't know if that's because my golf course is out in the country."
Robinson is part of a movement of women working to raise awareness of female superintendents and pave the way for others who want to follow in their footsteps.
"When women ask me, my first piece of advice is to be confident in yourself," she said. "You can't worry about what anyone else thinks of you. Everyone has to overcome that. If you're confident in yourself, there isn't anything you can't accomplish."
If Robinson is a pioneer in this movement, Leasha Schwab is its Lewis and Clark.
A superintendent for nearly a decade, including the past three years at Pheasant Run Golf Club in Ontario, Schwab (@LeashaSchwab on Twitter) organized a career-development symposium for women at this year's Golf Industry Show in San Antonio. The event started with a shoutout on Twitter and ended with about 80 women from throughout the golf industry packing a ballroom at the Marriott Riverwalk.
"I'm interested in talking to women who feel like they don't have a voice. That was the whole point at running that event at the Golf Industry Show," she said. "For anyone who hasn't had a chance to connect, it was an opportunity to meet each other and strike up a conversation."
And then some.
Schwab has watched as colleagues walked off the job when she was promoted from assistant to head superintendent, and like so
many others, she knows what it's like to have a golfer mistake her for a beer cart operator.
"That happens to me all the time," she said. "I've been at professional conferences when people have asked me 'whose wife are you?' It's not coming from a malicious place. When people say things like this, it can be harmful, but if I just bitch, I'm not going to have much influence. The only way to change people's perceptions of this industry is to educate them."
That all men don't welcome women into the world of golf might point more toward their own insecurities than anything else, says Amy Wallis, Ph.D., a professor of practice at the Wake Forest University School of Business. Wallis' expertise lies in differences of people from different cultures, races and generations and how that can affect performance in the workplace.
"There are certain areas of life that historically have been reserved for particular groups of people, and those people go to those activities because they feel comfortable and safe there," said Amy Wallis. "And when you think about the golf industry, a lot of men of privilege, and particularly white men of privilege are drawn to golf in part because it's a place where white men of privilege hang out. Some of them are there because of the comfort of that. Then you bring people who are different into that environment and it's like 'I don't know how to behave, so I'm going to behave in ways that I pretend that I'm joking, but I'm actually sending these subtle signals that say you don't belong here.' "
That level of discomfort that comes with others invading your space is not reserved only for men, Wallis said.
"I might join a gym that is a women-only gym because I feel more comfortable working out in a women-only gym. And if a man walked in I would probably be somewhat bothered by the fact that there was a man there, and I might treat him accordingly," she said. "I might make a joke about a man being there, because the context is one where I had an expectation where there would not be a man there.
"I think in golf there is still this perception that there is an invasion of people who are different. Some men might say they were drawn to golf because they knew how to behave there. There is a much bigger discussion we need to have about whether we even have the skills to welcome people who are different into our environment, and how do you develop those skills. Most of us don't spend much time developing those skills. We spend our time looking for areas where we fit in, rather than looking for ways to help other people fit in."
Breaking down those barriers is exactly why Schwab organized the event at GIS.
"I know what it's like to walk into a room of 500 men and feel like you don't belong," she said.
Jessica Lenihan credits a lot of men with helping promote her career since graduating from Penn State's four-year turf program in 2016. She worked on Kevin Hicks's crew at Coeur d'Alene until 2011 and is currently the assistant superintendent at Hayden Lake Country Club in Idaho.
"I've met a lot of great, supportive men who are willing to help out," Lenihan (@jklenihan5 on Twitter) said. "I've met a lot of people, too, who are total creeps and don't give you any respect at all. Granted, those have been few and far between.
"You have to work twice as hard to prove you know what you're doing. That doesn't bother me. Everyone in this business knows how to grow grass. Whether people believe you, I think that is the question that comes up for women in turf."
Schwab says she doesn't think a woman should have to work more to prove she belongs. You can do the job, or you can't, and that should be enough, she says.
"One of the reasons for my success is the men who have helped me along the way," Schwab said.
"We just want good people in general in this industry, so how do we change this?"
That means changing people's perception of culture in and out of the workplace, she said.
"People leave their jobs because they feel they don't belong, not because of money," she said.
"I don't have to be rough and gruff to show I belong. I think that's where women go wrong. If I have to pretend to be just as tough as the boys, I lose leadership capability and integrity because I'm not being myself. The alternative is to look at each person as an individual. If we work on that, that's where we can make the biggest impact."
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Women in turf encourage others to follow in their footstepsPart III in an ongoing series about labor issues affecting the golf industry. St...