August 21, 2012

It would have been nice if the first few months of Ginni Rometty's assumption of the CEO position at IBM could have been associated with a ground-breaking deal, an innovative new product or solution, or even a contentious technology debate with a competing technology company. Instead, the headlines from Rometty's first months in this high-profile and historic role were about golf --specifically, Augusta National golf course's exclusionary membership policies. IBM traditionally has been a sponsor of the Masters golf tournament, and as a sponsor its CEO has been offered membership at the club, which until yesterday, August 20, did not allow women to be members.

This past April, when the 2012 Masters tournament took place, there was much analysis, debate and hand-wringing about whether or not the hidebound club would change its policies to "accommodate" Rometty, whether Rometty should make a public statement or take action regarding the no-women policy, whether or not IBM should withdraw its sponsorship, and lots of other issues that had nothing to do with technology strategy or market share growth.

It's not that I don't think Rometty was wronged or that a policy that excludes any specific gender, race or religion -- even if it is invoked by a private entity -- is problematic. Furthermore, the fact that Augusta National's announcement of its revised policy was issued the same week that the media and political worlds were buzzing (to say the least) about the ignorant comments about rape and conception by Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin underscores that women often still must fight to be taken seriously, whether in the emergency room or the boardroom.

Still, it makes me a little sad that Ginni Rometty -- an inspiring, talented and savvy executive who headed IBM's insurance business in the late '90s/early 2000s -- is going to be associated more with a golf tournament and a restrictive private club's membership policies than with game-changing technology strategy. At least for now. Ms. Rometty, I can't wait for you to show us your stuff!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & ...