Does IBM’s CEO Virginia Rometty Owe Women Anything?

Ginni Rometty at the Fortune MPW Summit -2011

On July 26, 1990, IBM announced it would not advertise during the televised PGA Championship because the group’s host club,Shoal Creek Country Club, in Alabama did not admit black members. In an article in the Gainesville Sun, IBM’s spokeswoman Gina Chew-Holman said,  “When we learned that this tournament was being played at a club that was exclusionary, we decided it was not an appropriate vehicle for our advertising.” By August 1, Shoal Creek Country Club admitted its first black member. Augusta National followed six weeks later. It’s hard to believe that happened in 1990.

Today, 22 years later, Augusta National still has not admitted its first woman. I’m not really opposed to exclusionary clubs (I was a Girl Scout) if they are really, truly private. But Augusta National counts on the corporate sponsors like IBM, AT&T and ExxonMobil for their Masters Tournament. They also count on the public to buy their sponsors’ products.

They also count on a television network to pay for the rights to the tournament. No network would pay for the rights to the tournament if no one would watch, or worse, boycott the televised sponsors. What I’m trying to say is, if Augusta National wants to be private. Great, invite who you like to be members. If you want to get millions for one tournament and rely on the public at large to “sell” that product, you are now public and with that comes some responsibilities.

How could Virginia Rometty not pull her company’s IBM sponsorship immediately when she took over as CEO of IBM in January?

IBM has sponsored the Masters for the past 10 years (not once insisting on women being allowed to join) and gaining an invitation for their “male” CEOs during that tenure to join the Augusta National Club. Virginia Rometty became the CEO of IBM in January and if she’s waiting on an invitation to join, she’ll be disappointed. Augusta National, has made it clear, there will be no precedent set this year. That’s too bad, because the entire nation is watching what she will do.

Admittedly, Rometty doesn’t owe me anything, certainly not a seat at the Augusta National membership table. However, one could argue that she does owe some women gratitude, like Meg Whitman (CEO of Ebay), Carly Fiorina (CEO of Hewlett-Packard) and Carol Bartz (CEO of Yahoo!) who carved a path for her. Yes, Rometty did it on her own, but women that came before her made it appropriate for her to be offered the CEO position of IBM.

Now she alone can take a stand and be a hero to all the young girls who will read about her courage. Or she will simply fade into the wood paneled background of her CEO office, never taking a stand. Certainly we could use Gina Chew-Holman just about now.

Erma Bombeck, the great humor writer said it best, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’. Right now Rometty has been given a great gift to make a difference.

GIRLFRIENDS should always – use their power for good.