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Why a growing number of women join country clubs

Saturday October 12 2019

Country clubs

Naomi Wafula prepares to tee off during the Ladies Invitational Golf Tournament at Vipingo Ridge on February 2, 2019. Country clubs are prominent for networking. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

STELLA ADI
By STELLA ADI
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As a woman transitions through life, her priorities and needs also shift. For many, these changes come with some tough self-reflective questions: am I making the right decisions for my career? And what about my family? What legacy will I leave behind?

At some point the bar or club scene starts taking on an aura of monotony and a certain hollowness. Many women begin to hunger for a more rewarding social pastime.

Take Susan Mwende for instance. She was good at what she did for a living. She had successfully climbed up the corporate ladder in the banking industry.

Even so, there appeared to be an invisible and impenetrable barrier that kept her out of a certain sphere of access. She yearned to break the glass ceiling. She isn't alone.

A study carried out in Nairobi in 2011 cited amongst other factors, exclusion from useful information exchanged through informal networks as one of the challenges faced by women in senior management.

Fast forward to nearly a decade later. Susan was rapidly approaching her mid-40s, managing her consultancy firm and in need of clientele of a certain calibre.

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NETWORKING

She found she needed to expand her networks – and fast. So she went ahead and did what she hadn't been compelled to do years earlier… she acquired her first country club membership.

Not long after, during a golf tournament, she was introduced to the managing director of a big multinational and this company became her biggest client. From the green to the corner office?

Just what do these clubs offer women anyway? Well, golf lovers, I'll start with you. A good majority of these clubs offer golf as one of the amenities their members can enjoy.

Known by many as the language of businessmen, golf as we know it today has been used by the corporate fraternity in business and industry for 600 years.

Men have long used the sport as a gateway to opportunity and access to powerful people. Finally, women are wising up too.

When you get into golf, not only will you be spending time with industry and business executives or potential clients you otherwise may never have met, you can also apply some golf lessons to get you up the rungs of that success ladder faster.

Apart from the physical exercise (one can walk up to nine kilometers during a game), nearly all the women I spoke to mentioned networking for career advancement as the primary reason for joining a club and taking on the sport.

AMBITIONS
According to the Business Daily, 40 women under 40 top achievers survey, 57 per cent of the women are in business while 43 per cent are employed.

In their five-year-plan, 63 per cent of these women want to expand their businesses, 52 per cent want to further their education, 52 per cent hope to sit on a company board someday, and 22 per cent have their eyes on the chief executive officer (CEO) seat.

Considering networking has long been considered a vital component for success in business and any profession, it's no wonder then that more women are using golf to further their careers and create otherwise difficult-to-come-by business opportunities for themselves.

Nancy Kimathi, who is situated in Nairobi and works for a leading bank in Kenya, says that other than being an athletic person all her life, she felt the need to learn how to play golf to advance her career.

A member of both Eldoret Club and Machakos Golf Club, she says it's cheaper to join clubs outside Nairobi that reciprocate with other more expensive clubs in Nairobi.

RECOGNITION

Joan Mkanyika, an ambitious 36-year-old marketing professional in Nairobi, took up golf lessons after getting challenged by her CEO to play.

"The truth is despite having a club membership, I had never played a single round of the game! So I signed up for beginner classes and then hoped he would ask me again. Luckily, he did and this time the answer was yes."

Joan, like many women in corporate Kenya, is realising she is losing out. "I joined the golf bandwagon because it was a fun way to have some sort of one on one time with the execs at work. At first, I was very intimidated because I thought I would look like an idiot in front of my male bosses and colleagues who had been playing for years. Surprisingly though, the more I played and my game improved, the more I enjoyed it."

There is also something to be said about women who can match the skills of the men on the course. "They may be sceptical at first, but once you show them what you got, there's certain respect they give you."

Soon, Joan says, she was being trusted to represent the company in high-profile meetings and meet important clients, something she attests to speaking the country club jargon. "It's simply politics," she adds, smiling.

STEREOTYPE
Women's' golf age demographics have been going down over the last 10 years. "Before, the average age of women golfers was about 55 but we're seeing younger women taking up the sport in the last few years," says Joyce Ogesi, who is a former chair of Kenya Golf Ladies Union and still very involved in the sport countrywide.

"Initiatives such as the Naliaka Academy that trains young girls, most of whom have been part of the Kenya team, is doing its bit to ensure that the talent pool in women's golf remains vibrant."

If you're anything like me however, golf has never really been your thing. Some of the women I spoke to who were more averse to the idea of joining a club said the male-centric and golf-centric aspect of the country club put them off.

And they have a point. Since their inception, country clubs were a preserve of elite men. Early establishments, like the Royal Nairobi Golf Club opened in 1906, were started by colonialists and were characterised by a blatant lack of ethnic and gender diversity.

Golf also quickly became the sport most associated with the country club, and synonymous with the ‘boys club’, a fact that stands true even today.

OPPORTUNITIES

Nevertheless, these clubs offer plenty of other opportunities to rub shoulders with the who's who in your social sphere of choice outside golf.

Considering that these institutions' patronage consists of a wide pool of like-minded professionals from all manner of fields, even simple fundraising, gala or dinner could present countless opportunities for you to pick the brains of those more knowledgeable than you in a friendly setting away from the office space.

That sounds like the perfect opportunity to seek sound investment advice, or pitch that nagging business idea, or exchange ideas, or scout for potential partners or clients. The prospects are endless.

Considering, too, that these country clubs are typically located in serene and peaceful locations, this could be a wonderful place to meet with your friends in a relaxing setting, with food and drink usually at subsidised prices for members.

Myann Ngure, 35, a Branding and Marketing expert who lives in Kiambu County, agrees. Outside of networking opportunities, a club is a wonderful place for the entire family to spend some quality time together.

Depending on the amenities and activities available from spa facilities, swimming pools to tennis, and board games to fun theme nights, there's something for every member of your family.

"You'll find that most clubs have rules that make the space very conducive for family-time and bonding", says Myann, who is considering joining Vet Lab Sports Club due to the discount rates for women and proximity to her home.

DETERRENTS
And for those with a craving for community, not only do they provide you an ideal place to meet with your friends and family, but you can also use the club to make new friends.

By simple virtue of belonging to the same institution, you will have more than a few things in common with your fellow members.

Plus we cannot ignore the personal branding and image aspect with which belonging to a club adds to your name.

So why aren't more women taking advantage of this seemingly golden opportunity to enrich their professional and social standing?

Well, prohibitive club joining fees and high annual subscriptions continue to be a huge deterrent to new memberships.

With most clubs having joining fees that will set you back upwards of Sh600,000, the club membership belongs to a tight elite circle. Take Nyambura, 38, for instance.

She's in the financial services industry and thought about joining a club for a while now because many of her niche customers happen to be members. Unfortunately, high costs kept her away.

If cost isn't a deterrent, it's the image. Among younger women, an unwelcoming attitude towards the youth, a sense of inferiority and the general notion of the stuffy and old-fashioned country club were additional reasons mentioned for reluctance to join.

Still, family commitments that tend to affect women more, were cited as some of the challenges.

STAFF BENEFITS
Although many of these exclusive clubs were reluctant to share any sort of information about their members, I learned that Vet Lab Sports Club in Nairobi, for instance, conducts membership drives with lower joining fees for women.

This, they say, they carry out with women in mind in terms of times and duration of the drives.

Though encouraging, more effort is needed to attract a younger and more gender-balanced demographic into the clubs.

Membership figures for women remain lower at about 35 per cent compared with the men. If you're able to negotiate a club membership or discount into your work contract, even better.

Did you know that some companies will pay up to 75 per cent of your joining fee? "Most organisations may offer either their permanent employees or employees of a particular grade discounted fees to join a certain list of partner clubs at negotiated rates, but whether or not these are taken up depend solely on the employee", says Eric Musugu, a Human Resource Officer at Nation Media Group.

"They can either pay by themselves or as their employer, we offer to pay half and the rest we deduct from their salaries on a predetermined basis."

So whether you have begun feeling a stirring in your belly to switch things up, or you want to move up career-wise, access business opportunities or are simply in search of a more wholesome way to spend your weekend, a membership club might be that ticket to your success.

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