When Sandy Cross, Chief People Officer of the PGA of America, focuses on inclusion and diversity topics, she’s not just thinking about employees of the golfers’ association. She’s also concentrating on the vendors the association relies on, the people out on the course, and the people who might one day consider taking up the game.
And to make progress, Cross focuses first on inclusion. Get inclusion right, and a diverse workplace is more likely to fall into place, she says. An authentically inclusive environment will “attract, help develop, and retain that diverse talent,” she says.
“Some years ago, we struggled in that space. We were so laser focused on getting the diversity in the door, but we hadn’t spent time on the environment,” Cross says. “What environment is the new talent coming into, and are they going to thrive and grow? We had some hurdles, we learned, and we now lead with inclusion.”
Cross notes that it is “exponentially more difficult and costly to identify, select, and onboard new talent than to retain and develop the talent that you have.” Also, an inclusive environment ensures people will bring their creativity, innovation, and passion to work.
So, another key value of leading with inclusion is its benefit to the bottom line and the strength of the organization’s brand.
Cross says the PGA of America’s goal is to have a workforce that reflects the demographics of the country and the consumers the association aspires to attract. That’s why she looks beyond the workforce in the headquarters. She also wants to make sure anyone connected to the association benefits from diversity.
For years, the association has actively worked to promote diversity on the participatory side of the game, Cross says. At first, the organization was “focused on trying to get a golf club in people’s hands, have them pick up a club, have a great experience, and fall in love with the game.” That remains important, “but we recognized recently that we have to broaden our focus.”
This means, in addition to gaining diversity among people who play the game, the association wants to diversify the golf industry’s supply chain, which amounts to $84 billion a year, Cross says. Key to accomplishing diversity in the supply chain is the association’s ability to let individuals in business see others who look like them having a successful career in the golf industry.
Cross says all three of those lanes—the PGA of America workforce, the supply chain, and the people who hit the links—need to come together. “They all inform each other, they all reinforce each other, and we can’t just focus on who plays the game,” she says. “We have to take an expanded view. We have to also focus on who’s working in this industry and who’s in the supply chain, and when we focus on all those, we believe the rising tide is going to raise all boats.”
So, while encouraging people from all backgrounds to play the game may seem like an effective way to attract a more diverse workforce, Cross says her organization is “flipping that model” and working to recruit a diverse workforce that will encourage more diversity among people who play the game.
The association’s efforts include a strategic initiative called PGA WORKS, which is designed to create clear pathways into the golf industry workforce through such things as fellowships, scholarships, internships, and career exploration events.
“As the golf industry workforce evolves, we believe it’s going to have a direct impact on who plays the game, and we’re seeing that already,” Cross says. She’s seen many of the people involved in the PGA WORKS initiative starting to take lessons and enjoy the game. So, focusing on the workforce is driving the diversification of who plays.
Another part of the association’s efforts includes partnering. The PGA partners with Jopwell, an organization that helps companies recruit Black, Latinx, and Native American students and professionals. Through that partnership, the association learned that Jopwell’s constituents knew very little about opportunities in the golf industry.
The work with Jopwell showed “a real lack of awareness in diverse communities about the myriad of career opportunities that exist in the business of golf,” Cross says, adding that job candidates need to know that the PGA of America is like many other businesses in that it requires a range of skill sets. And most positions don’t require proficiency with a golf club.
The work with Jopwell also showed “a strong misperception that you have to have golf skills, knowledge, and/or playing ability to have a career in this business,” Cross says, adding that she herself didn’t come from a golf background. In fact, she started college on a pre-law track.
At the time, she was playing volleyball at the University of Buffalo and was working in the athletic department. Her boss encouraged her to consider a postgraduate degree in sport management. “So, I explored that, and I ultimately wound up going to Kent State University to get my master’s of arts in sport administration.”
That change of direction led her to south Florida and a job with the U.S. Water Fitness Association, and then, within a year, she landed a job with the PGA of America—a job that put her in a position to focus on workforce inclusion and diversity.
She says she’s proud that the association’s workforce is well-balanced from a gender perspective, although more progress is needed. “Holistically, we’re gender-balanced, but as you climb the ranks, it becomes more male dominated,” she says.
Racial diversity represents more of a challenge. “Our racial diversity right now is hovering around 18%, so definitely room to grow,” Cross says. “We are laser focused on growing that percentage of racial diversity.”
Advice for Others
Cross says she’s learned a lot over the last several years, and one piece of advice for others in the inclusion and diversity space is to avoid efforts to “silo off” an inclusion and diversity team or strategy within the organization.
Instead of relegating inclusion and diversity to one team or individual, Cross says everybody across the organization needs to help advance the agenda. She also doesn’t recommend tucking inclusion and diversity entirely inside Human Resources “because what I’ve observed happen with that, when you connect it to Human Resources, it inadvertently can take on a halo of compliance,” she says, and it should be “so much more than that.”
Cross also advises inclusion and diversity professionals to remember the “importance of authentic storytelling.”
“When we started out on our journey, we said, ‘Let’s keep our heads down, do some really great work, and let’s let the work speak for itself,’” Cross says. They didn’t want to look like they were patting themselves on the back.
“But that backfired a little bit because we kept our heads down so much—and we did do some meaningful and impactful work—but, frankly, nobody knew about it,” Cross says. People didn’t know there was “a new PGA and that we had new commitments and were doing new things, and there were new engagement opportunities.”
“That was a wakeup call for us, and now we think we have found a nice balance where we can do some authentic storytelling,” Cross says. They’ve learned how to connect with unengaged communities by sharing – not bragging – all the unique efforts they were undertaking to encourage broader inclusion..
Another piece of advice: “It’s incredibly important to just own who you are and be transparent about who you are as an organization when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Cross says. “Own your past, be honest about where you are in the journey, be honest about what you’re committed to and how you’re getting there.”