April 11, 2008


Gas Gouging and Green Jackets

By Martha Burk

Paid at the pump lately? Who hasn’t, and we’re paying more with each tank. Gas is up a quarter a gallon in the last two weeks alone, but don’t expect big oil to feel your pain. The moguls at ExxonMobil, the fattest of the petroleum cartel cats, will squander several millions of your fuel dollars sponsoring the Masters golf tournament and entertaining their buddies during the April 8 to 12 festivities.

The Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, is famous for its top notch course, beautiful azaleas, members in green jackets — and sex discrimination. A female may be good enough to take the Oval Office, but no woman is good enough make it through the front gates of Augusta National as an equal. Even after a national argument five years ago that played out from network TV to kitchen tables, the boys in green refused to allow women members into their exclusive club. They’re still standing firm.

Augusta National lost its TV sponsors for two years over their refusal to admit women, but ExxonMobil came to the rescue, stepping up to the sex-segregation plate with a new multi-year contract to underwrite the Masters broadcast. Female shareowners are outraged, and have filed stockholder resolutions demanding that the company account for the number of dollars spent at Augusta and other venues that discriminate on the basis of gender. The resolutions state the obvious — the company wouldn’t do it if the subject was race. But apparently the boys in the boardroom (there are only two women out of 13) don’t think sex discrimination is such a big deal. Management sent out a letter last month urging stockholders to vote against this simple demand for disclosure.

But don’t think the company isn’t trying to woo women’s dollars while thumbing its nose at the principles of fairness and equality. In a breathtaking act of corporate hypocrisy, last month ExxonMobil also ran a nationwide full page color ad in the New York Times touting its celebration of International Women’s Day, and its support for women rising in the ranks of business — in Africa. The ad cost only a few hundred thousand — several million less than the Augusta sponsorship. Guess they think female newspaper readers are a cheap date.

Women at ExxonMobil are not buying the stonewalling by company management on the Augusta National issue, and women at other firms involved with the club continue to complain of sex discrimination to national women’s rights groups. Attitudes that begin on the golf course naturally spill over to the office, where women say they are passed over for promotion, paid less, and even sexually harassed at many of the companies these guys head. The National Council of Women’s Organizations has been making sure women at the green-jacketed CEO companies get a little payback. The group helped women employees at Morgan Stanley sue that company two years ago for discriminatory employment practices. They recently got a settlement for $46 million. And importantly, they got a change in company policy that expenses and entertainment at discriminatory clubs will no longer be underwritten with company dollars.

Exxon ought to listen to this canary in the coal mine. Women — no doubt including some of its own employees — are fed up. The company’s record-breaking bottom line has been fattened by their work. That bottom line has also been pumped up by female customers who must drive to get to work, school, church, and the grocery store. So whether you’re a woman behind the wheel or a man who cares about the women in your life, the next time you need a fill-up, consider what you’re really paying for when you choose one brand over another.

While ordinary people struggling to balance their checkbooks, the corporate guests of ExxonMobil are struggling to get another drink at the company-sponsored open bars in Augusta, Georgia. And oh yeah, the corporation gets to deduct every penny. Hold that thought. It just might cause you to drive to the next pump a little further down the block.

Burk is author of “Your Money and Your Life: The High Stakes for Women Voters in ‘08 and Beyond”

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