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Not knowing how to play golf can hurt women in business, study finds

Women in business who don't know how to swing a golf club are whiffing on networking opportunities that could advance their careers, according to a research report.

The report, first published in 2020, has gained new traction recently, one of its authors said, as inclusivity becomes a top priority for employers.  

Significantly more men than women call themselves golfers. That's in part because it's a time-consuming sport, and women tend to have less leisure time. A full round of golf, which includes playing 18 holes, can take four to five hours. 

"Women have far less leisure time than men — they have less opportunity after hours to participate in networking," Deborah Gray, a professor of marketing at Central Michigan University and one of the 2020 study's co-authors, told CBS MoneyWatch. "So if something is going to go, it's usually that activity because they have caretaking and childrearing responsibilities."

A study from the Pew Research Center last week shed light on the uneven distribution of unpaid labor — even among women who out-earn their male spouses. Even today, women married to men are much more often tasked with taking care of children and completing other chores around the home, regardless of who earns more. (Men, meanwhile, spend more time on leisure.)

Study: "Breadwinner" wives do more housework than husbands 04:10

But there are tangible professional benefits to learning the club-and-ball sport. More than 70% of Fortune 1000 CEOs said they had done business with someone they met on the golf course, the researchers note, citing a report they reviewed. Additionally, 80% of Fortune 500 executives said golf has helped their careers, according to separate research they studied and cite in the 2020 study.

Building relationships by the hole

While such data underscores golf's relevance in the business world, there's a dearth of women who play the sport — meaning women aren't reaping the same professional benefits that man are, the study's authors found. 

By not golfing, women can miss out on opportunities to climb the corporate ladder and be promoted within their organizations. 

"A misconception is that a lot of hard selling goes on on the golf course and that's not accurate," Gray said. "It's developing the relationship and understanding who a person is and getting to know them."

She added, "Relationship-building and being able to spend quality time with a person is really important, and golf is so conducive to doing business because you can eat, drink and chit-chat. You can't do that over a basketball game or spinning or yoga." 

Men on the course build diverse networks by bonding with executives with different backgrounds over a shared interest — whacking a small dimpled ball down the fairway.

"Just being exposed to other people who are the decision-makers who are on the golf course in that closed network is valuable," Gray added. "Being able to golf allows you to get in some of that decision-making."

Paid to play?

Gray argues that golf is such a powerful networking tool that companies should invest in lessons for workers, and even include golf instruction as part of employees' training in how to network. 

"I don't know why golf is treated any different from any other professional development activity, but somehow it is," Gray said. She added that lessons should be held during business hours — so that people, in particular women, aren't forced to sideline other after-work responsibilities to participate. 

"I guarantee companies that incorporate golf lessons during business hours will see an increase in women participating," Gray said. "That's because they're time-poor and they have unequal access to leisure time."

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