Should More Women Lawyers Play Golf?

July 31, 2023

Only about 25% of all golfers are women. This statistic may not sound concerning, but it points to a problem for women leaders and lawyers.

Playing golf has long been a strong networking tool in the business world, and women who don’t play may be missing out on the opportunities created on the course. The Wall Street Journal recently examined this gap and considered how opting out of golf may negatively affect women’s careers.

A different approach to networking?

What sets golf apart from other networking activities is that the game takes hours to play. This means spending lots of time with other players, and learning about their lives and personalities.

“By not golfing, women not only miss out on the experience but also conversations about the experience,” The Wall Street Journal noted. “They also miss out on the chance to be more visible within their organization, converse with decision makers and put themselves in a better position for promotions.”

According to this WSJ commentator, research shows that women’s networks, traditionally, include people who are similar to themselves. Men’s networks, on the other hand, are generally more strategic; they include more powerful people and focus on common interests — like golf — rather than common backgrounds. Of course, when we zoom out yet further, the demographic reality of today’s corporate and law firm environments demonstrate that true diversity of background, such as socioeconomic status, race, and LGTBQ+ identity, is missing from the networks of all majority-status executives, male and female. (And there is a LOT more to say on how men’s and women’s approaches to networking differ, as we delve into here.) But the operative piece in the context of networking is that men tend to nurture professional relationships with people who are strategically, not personally, valuable to them. And women may be missing out by not doing the same.

Not everybody has the same amount or type of free time

Of course, it’s not just a difference in networks that is keeping women away from golf. Women are more likely than men to dedicate time to caring for families — children or aging parents — leaving less time to devote to networking activities. And women tend to worry whether they are good enough to play with male colleagues, choosing to stay away even when they receive an opportunity to play.

In a more equitable legal industry, golf would not play such a central role in building and maintaining client relationships. Over the years we have seen some great examples of women leaders breaking out of this limited thinking on networking and creating novel opportunities for connection that do not involve golf. One firm organized a women’s poker night. Another, a family-friendly outing to a local pool that allowed working mothers to bring their children and conduct business while the kids had fun in the sun. These innovative approaches prove that golf is not the only game in town. (And if you are a non-golfer and a member of an underrepresented group, another answer may be to lean in to the power of affinity groups to advance your career.)

May the course be with you

And yet there is no getting around the fact that so much business and so many career-accelerating moments happen on the golf course. Should law firms encourage more women to golf by recognizing it as a formal networking activity, providing training and coaching in the game just like they do for other professional development activities? This if-you-can’t-beat-’em approach may be a way to increase access to opportunities for all.

We’d love to hear what you think.