The Beautiful Truth

Sandy Cross

Chief People Officer at The Professional Golfers’ Association of America

Learning Objectives

Leading the inclusion and diversity strategy and practice for an organization is hard. It can be messy. It can be overwhelming. Sandy Cross, Chief People Officer of the PGA of America, has led that effort for seven years in an industry that historically was steeped in exclusion. She will share powerful insights gleaned along the way that can propel you on your inclusion journey.

Key Takeaways:

  • How to set a foundation for organizational success

  • An understanding of the "must-dos" and the "watch-outs"

  • A greater level of confidence in tackling this most important and challenging work

"Diversity, equity, and inclusion need to be embedded everywhere across all of your lines of business."

Sandy Cross

Chief People Officer at The Professional Golfers’ Association of America


Hi, I’m Sandy Cross. I’m the Chief People Officer of the PGA of America. Thank you for joining today. I’m really pleased that we have this time together where I can share some insights from our inclusion journey at the PGA of America. We are a professional trade association representing 28,000 men and women golf professionals who manage the business of golf at about 10,000 golf facilities around America. We also own and operate some of the game’s biggest championships, most notably the Ryder Cup, the PGA Championship, the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

I’m excited to spend this time together today, because so many of us are on an inclusion journey at our respective businesses. I really believe that everyone is at a different place on their journey. The work can be hard, it can be messy. I’m hoping today to share some of what I call the beautiful truth about that inclusion journey. Some things that we’ve learned along the way as we set our foundation in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion space, as well as some things that you can consider as you’re moving along your journey, and as you’re working to operationalize Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at your business. So let’s go.

First, when you’re structuring a diversity, equity, and inclusion practice or function in your business, I recommend strongly that you don’t tuck it inside the human resources department. You see a lot of companies do this. They’ll have a diversity, equity, and inclusion practice, but it’s embedded or buried in the human resources function. I believe that it is a best practice to have those two functions be wholly separate.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion needs to be embedded everywhere across all of your lines of business. I’ve observed when companies talk diversity, equity, and inclusion into their human resources function, it takes on a halo of compliance. It takes some people back to the days of affirmative action, where it’s about risk, and again, compliance versus real business opportunity. Again, for everyone across the business, all lines of the business. So don’t embed it in that HR practice, have it live everywhere throughout your company.

Next, I encourage you not to relegate your DE&I responsibility to select individuals in the company. It’s got to be everyone’s responsibility. Yes, you do need champions who are going to wake up every day, and drive that agenda forward. However, everybody has to participate. Early on, I found that when companies relegate the DE&I responsibilities to a handful of individuals in the company, other individuals can think that it’s not their responsibility, or they don’t have to worry about it, someone else down the hall will take care of it. That’s not the case. Everybody has to make it their responsibility.

Now, your small team of DE&I practitioners that you may have—those champions—it’s their responsibility to come alongside their peers, shoulder to shoulder, and help them look at their line of the business through what I’d like to call a lens of inclusion. I believe that’s the best practice.

Next, incredibly important. Be transparent and be authentic. As an organization, you have to own your past, clearly articulate where you are on your journey, and then express what you are committed to and how you are planning to get there. I’ll share a story with you from the PGA of America. Back in the 1934 to 1961, in the bylaws of the PGA of America constitution, we had what was called a Caucasian Only clause, which is terrible to think of, but that did exist in our constitution and bylaws during that era. It’s been very important for us to take ownership of that past, talk about it, especially important with communities of color. They need to hear us own that past, and talk about where we are today and how we’re going to get better. It’s been really, really powerful to be transparent and be authentic about our past. I would encourage you to do the same.

We’ve laid out a very clear commitment of where we are today, and where we hope to get. We’ve offered five areas of focus: education and skill development, workforce diversification, vendor inclusion, governance, and community engagement. Those are the five focus areas of commitment. Eeach of those areas, we have clearly articulated how we are going to advance along our journey.

Next, you’ll often hear me say, inclusion and diversity versus diversity and inclusion or D&I. I like to lead with inclusion, and I encourage you to do the same. When you lead with inclusion, more often than not, the diversity will naturally follow. I’ll share with you early on, 6, 7 years ago, we led with diversity. We were very focused on getting diversity in the door, hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds, laser focused on that. We had some success, but what we didn’t focus on was ensuring that we had an inclusive environment and authentically inclusive environment in our organization for those individuals from diverse backgrounds to thrive in. We lost some of that talent, and it was not good. So I encourage you lead with inclusion, create those authentically inclusive workspaces, workplaces, or places for your consumers. Authentic inclusion will drive diversity.

Next, monitor your language. It creates culture. When I say language, I’m not just referring to your verbal language, but also equally important your visual language. Language creates culture. I’ll share with you as we think about the golf industry in the sport of golf. There are a lot of words and phrases that are deeply embedded in the golf culture, which can be inadvertently off putting to individuals from diverse backgrounds. For example, the ladies’ tees, or the senior tees, or cart girl. Those are just a few examples.

At the PGA of America, we undertook a comprehensive language audit to identify terms such as those that can be off putting to individuals who aren’t so to speak on the inside of the golf industry. They didn’t grow up in the sport and they don’t deeply know the ways and [unintelligible] and etiquette around the sport. I would encourage you to do the same with your business. During that language audit, we also audited our visual imagery across the entire golf industry. There really was a void of images of individuals, particularly from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds as well as women, and as well as individuals with disabilities participating not only in the sport of golf, but also participating in golf’s workforce in golf supply chain.

We partnered with a company called Jopwell, and that’s J, O, P, as in Peter, W, E, L, L. We created the Jobwell PGA collection. You can search that online, and what you’ll find is an authentic photoshoot, a free to download images that show individuals, men and women, from racially diverse backgrounds, different skills and abilities, enjoying the sport of golf, enjoying a career in golf and working in the golf industry supply chain. Again, take a close look at your language of verbal and visual. It is creating your culture.

Next up, it’s very important to completely and deeply commit to education and skill development of your stakeholders that are helping advance your diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda. Education and skill development must be foundational, and you must commit to that for the long haul. We have a dedicated education and skill development trainer on our team when that [unintelligible]. The reason this has been so important in such an ongoing effort is we found early on that most of our constituents, colleagues, stakeholders did not deeply understand what diversity is, what equity is, and what inclusion is, and how those words are distinctly different. Then, understanding the business case for DE&I.

We’ve come a long way in our educational journey these last 6, 7 years. We’ve arrived at the point where our stakeholders now understand the fundamentals of DE&I, the dozens of dimensions of difference, and they understand the business case. We are now shifting in our educational journey to the how. We’ve mastered the what, but it’s now important to impart the how. How do we operationalize DE&I in our respective areas of the business? Again, I would encourage you to commit for the long term to education and skill development.

I love this one. Embed micro moments of inclusion on your journey—embrace them. Often times, companies are focused on the really big visible, or what I would call “sexy wins”, especially in moments of social and racial injustices and crises that we saw occur in 2020, particularly following the murder of George Floyd. Those big visible commitments are important. But what I believe matters most and really adds up to long term sustainable change, or many years and many decades to come, are these micro moments of inclusion. These are the small things that you and your team do every single day to change the culture not only inside your organization, but externally. ‘

How you engage with customers, prospective customers, suppliers, prospective suppliers In those small changes could be, again, changes you make with your language, changes you make with your imagery. Practices, protocols, and policies inside your organization can also drive those micro moments of inclusion. So don’t just look for the big, visible public relations wins. Think about what you and your team are doing every single day to advance inclusion.

Leverage the power of an invitation. The sport of golf, as you may know, is really rooted in invitation. Most everyone who participates in the sport of golf was invited out that very first time by someone else. Golf is often not a sport that someone takes up on their own. The power of that invitation at the beginning is what sets someone on their golf journey. I imagine the power of the invitation might be highly relevant in your business as well.

With the golf industry, we have a fairly homogenous consumer base—24, 25 million golfers—still largely male and significantly Caucasian. We are working to change that. Year over year, the numbers are improving. But what is really powerful is when individuals who are inside the sport extend invitation to someone who is not inside the sport, or is not in our workforce, or is not in our supply chain. They extend that invitation to someone from a background that’s different than their own, and invites them in. That is the most powerful thing we can do to change the composition of our sport and our business. It may apply to you as well.

Now, you’ll see I mentioned here on the screen, share your point of view and invite a point of view. That’s a small micro moment of inclusion that we can all do. It doesn’t cost anything other than being thoughtful, being intentional, being deliberate. Oftentimes, as humans, it’s natural. We share our perspective or we share a point of view with individuals from backgrounds similar to our own. Instead, think about who can you share your point of view or your perspective with that’s from a background different than yours. In addition, invite perspective and invite points of view from individuals who are from backgrounds, identities, and abilities that are different than your own. It’s incredibly powerful. Invite others in. Let them know you’re committed to evolving and advancing on your DE&I journey. They’ll be flattered and happy to help you.

Lastly, don’t go it alone. As I mentioned early on, diversity, equity, and inclusion, that journey can be hard, it can be difficult, it can be fatiguing, it can be messy. Find partners—strategic inclusion partners. They might be organizations or they might be individuals who believe in what you believe. They believe you are committed, and they’re willing to lock arms with you and help you get there. I’ll use a couple of examples.

We have partnered with an organization called Black Girls Golf, as well as the Latino Golfers Association, and the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Just three examples of organizations and individuals who believe in our commitment across those five focus areas, and how we’re getting there. The individuals that those organizations are willing to partner with us, and bring us into their communities where they have the authentic relationships that we don’t yet have.

We don’t have as authentic relationships with black Americans or Hispanic Americans that we aspire to attract into our sport. Same could be said for the LGBT community. So when we partner with those organizations, they help give us authenticity with their coveted customers, and they endorse us. and they advocate for us. They help us connect in very authentic ways with their customers, which allows us to then bring them into the sport, our golf industry workforce, and the golf industry supply chain.

Let’s summarize. Don’t talk diversity, equity, and inclusion into your HR department. Embed it everywhere. Don’t delegate that DE&I responsibility to select individuals only. Make sure it’s everyone’s responsibility across your organization. Be transparent and authentic. Own your past. Articulate where you are on your journey, and illustrate how you’re going to get better and move forward. Lead with inclusion, diversity will naturally follow. Monitor your verbal and your visual language. That language will create your culture.

Commit to education and skill development for the long term. Embrace those micro moments of inclusion, they will add up to real sustainable change over the long term, as much or more is those big visible PR lens. Leverage the power of an invitation. Share your point of view, and invite a point of view from individuals from backgrounds, identities, and abilities that are different than your own. Again, don’t go it alone. Embrace strategic partners who can help you advance on your inclusion journey.

Thank you again for spending this time with me today. If you’d like to connect more deeply, you can find me at Sandy Cross on LinkedIn and also at Sandy Cross on Twitter. Thank you.

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