Author Martha Burk Takes on Corporate America
She strives to make sex discrimination no longer acceptable.
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The hardest and most bitter lesson Martha Burk says she has learned as chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO) is that leaders in corporate America who engage in sex discrimination do so without fear of reprisal from women as consumers or as employees.
Speaking at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan on March 29, Burk, the author of "Cult of Power: Sex Discrimination in Corporate America and What Can Be Done About It," said, "I'm here to talk about dishonesty in corporate America, dishonesty that affects us all, dishonesty that has to end."
The NCWO is a network of nearly 200 national women's groups that collectively represent 10 million women. Burk explained how a brief letter from the NCWO in 2002 to the Augusta National Golf Club expressing concern over the club's all-male membership sparked a national argument regarding the club's secret roster of high-ranking corporate executives and its discriminatory policy toward women. The club hosts the Masters Tournament.
Burk includes in her book the Augusta National Golf Club 2002-2004 membership roster that was faxed to her anonymously after her 2002 letter to the golf club. The list includes America's rich and powerful, names such as Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and retired U.S. Senator Sam Nunn. Fourteen are members of the Council on Foreign Relations, Burk said. She also said that Secretary of the Treasury John Snow, who quit Augusta in order for his nomination to clear Congress, reportedly has a backdoor promise to be readmitted when he leaves office.
If the Augusta National Golf Club practiced racial rather than sex discrimination, Burk said, America's business, government, philanthropic and media leaders who belong to the club would be forced by public pressure to resign or lose their jobs, and Masters Tournament sponsors would withdraw support for the nation's premier golf event.
During the question-answer period, Lynn Wooten, assistant professor of corporate strategy and international business, said she too has noticed that corporations respond quickly to lawsuits involving racial bias.
"Race is a hot issue," said Wooten, who cited "the Jesse Jackson factor" as a motivating force behind the responses to charges of racial discrimination. "He mobilizes, and they feel pressure," Wooten said.
Burk said women should tell Masters Tournament sponsors what they think of those firms that support sex discrimination. Women also should use the power of their pocketbooks to force change.
"People are hired on the golf course. If women are not there, how will we ever get women in the executive suite?" she asked. The discriminatory attitudes and practices of the leaders of corporate America have a trickle down effect, Burk added, noting that women earn 75 cents for every $1 men earn.
Burk said she will consider it a victory when leaders of corporate America start taking sex discrimination seriously—when those who discriminate against women either can't keep their jobs or hold up their heads because sex discrimination has become unacceptable.
Burk's talk was sponsored by University Housing, Division of Student Affairs, and the Ross School.
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Mary Jo Frank