Golf Champ Denied Trophy Because She's a Girl Raises Uncomfortable Questions for Any Team

Emily Nash, 16, plays golf where she attends school–at Lunenburg High School in Massachusetts. Playing from the boy’s tees, she earned the best score in the Central Mass Division 3 Boys’ Golf Tournament. Her score helped her team move up, too–no problem counting her contribution to the team’s record. 

Emily Nash: champion trophy and title denied

But her record? Washed away. Her first-place trophy and title (which can help on golf scholarship applications) was awarded to a boy four strokes behind her. And he publicly accepted it, although privately, she says he later offered it to her and she appreciated that.

Not only did Nash not get the opportunity to visibly receive the recognition she earned on the field, the champion watched her title go to another. That young man can move forward to the state championships while she is held back. Washington Post writer Callum Borchers summed it up well: “Nash is the best Division 3 golfer, male or female, in central Massachusetts, and maybe one of the best high school players in the entire state, but she won’t have a chance to prove it because she is a girl.”

“I wasn’t aware that if I won I wouldn’t get the title or the trophy. I feel like it’s a bit unfair,” she told NPR local station WPBF. Professional Golf Association writer TJ Auclair agrees. He wrote, “It’s 2017. This rule sounds like it was created in 1917.”

If sports are a training ground for life, what’s being taught? 

Think of the lesson Nash just received–and the different takeaway the boy playing with her got. It goes something like this: “girls can play when guys can take the credit.” That may sound harsh, but let me just share an echo of this reality from the lunch I had last week with a retired, Fortune 500 C-suite executive. She said, “when it came down to who was left to run the company, it was me and three guys. Each guy then got placed automatically in the next role. The role I would be most likely to fill–and was doing–they ran an exhaustive global search for. No searches for the guys–just automatically promoted.”

The Nash dynamic is playing out in our teams on the field right now in business every single day.  It’s the essence of what is popularly called “the pipeline problem.” You probably know one story–or twenty–like this. No matter the number, it’s too many. 

Biases like the one Emily Nash faces are destroying trust in our teams.

“If you were to force me to rank the most important qualities of leadership, I’d put trustworthiness at the top,” writes New York Times columnist Adam Bryant. He’s famous for  “The Corner Office” column about CEOs.  He wrote last weekend, reflecting back on 525 intimate portraits of CEOs, on how trustworthiness is created. It’s mainly by focusing on doing a great job in the job you’re in, and respecting your team, he suggested, pulling from his body of work. 

You can see how that makes sense–and how skewed it is when we create different rules for some, but not others. Chances are, the boys in the tournament felt respected–even to the point of being lifted above their level of play. Literally, a girl on the same field–well, imagine for yourself what that level of rejection and being used feels like, when your score advances only your team but never yourself, and your trophy is given away to the next in line pro forma. The champion been offered a copy “consolation” trophy. What she asked for was a rule change.

 “No matter what people say about culture, it’s all tied to who gets promoted, who gets raises and who gets fired…

“You have your stated culture, but the real culture is defined by compensation, promotions, and terminations. Basically, people seeing who succeeds and fails in the company defines culture. The people who succeed become role models for what’s valued in the organization and that defines culture,” says Hea Nahm, managing director of Storm Ventures, sharing his leadership insights with Bryant. These words echo on the macro field of business and are first written on the micro level of middle school tryouts, high school championships, and college entrance exams.

Bryant shares, “Are there differences in the way men and women lead?” 

“I’ve been asked this question countless times. Early on, I looked hard to spot differences. But any generalization never held up . . . That said, there is no doubt women face much stronger headwinds than men to get to the top jobs. And many of those headwinds remain once they become CEOs. But the actual work of leadership It’s the same, regardless of whether a man or a woman is in charge.”

It’s nearing the end of the year. That means end-of-year reviews, bonuses, raises–and team dynamics coming to the fore.

My hope is that we can all remove some of the protective cronyism from team dynamics and reward each other’s greatest performances, no matter what our champions look like or how challenging they are to the status quo. Let winners win or we’ll keep caretaking a second-best culture that complains of dysfunction, incompetence, and insularity at the top. Sound familiar? It does not have to. You personally can make the difference where you are.

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