Corporate Feature

Prioritizing Inclusion & Diversity at the PGA of America

The PGA of America has come a long way on its journey to become an inclusive organization. Chief People Officer Sandy Cross has been leading the culture shift every step of the way.
— By Sharon Ross

The PGA of America was formed in 1916, and through the years its membership has largely been composed of white males. But as the demographics of our country began to evolve, the PGA of America realized that in order to grow and innovate, it would need to evolve at every level of the association as well, especially their membership ranks.

Sandy Cross has played a huge role in transforming the organization into one that embraces diversity and inclusion (D&I). Individuals like Sandy – who have a vision and deeply believe D&I is a core principle for the success of people, communities, and businesses – are those who make real change happen. Sandy has launched many D&I initiatives at the PGA of America and industry wide, beginning with the “Connecting With Her” strategic initiative to bring more women into the sport of golf and retain them past their initial introduction.

Today, the PGA of America has made great strides in bringing people from diverse backgrounds into the sport, the workforce, and the supply chain, but Sandy is of the belief that there is still a long way to go to overcome the past and engage the unengaged.

Evolving a Career
Sandy has been with the PGA of America for 24 years, beginning her career within the business development department. There she managed corporate partnerships and eventually moved into promoting the PGA of America brand. Given the opportunity to spearhead the "Connecting With Her" strategic initiative, Sandy led the effort on behalf of the golf industry.

“Working in the gender space really opened my eyes to the world of diversity and inclusion,” Sandy explained. “In 2014, I went to our CEO and asked if I could spearhead the D&I initiative for the entire organization. At the time, our leadership had just laid out a long-term strategic plan and they added D&I as a foundational principle."

After receiving approval, Sandy formed the D&I department and oversaw its operation until January 2019, when she stepped into the newly created chief people officer position. Now, she has the responsibility of leading Human Resources and D&I departments, where she is helping instill a values-based culture association wide.

She is an inspiration to D&I professionals and a role model for women. She was always willing to learn and her passion for helping others led her to bringing the principle of D&I to not just her organization, but to the U.S. golf industry.

Intentional at Every Step
One of the reasons Sandy’s approach has been so successful is due to the fact she is always intentional in everything she does. There are different groups that Sandy considers at all times: PGA professionals and their customers, the PGA of America’s employees and partners. Her oversight of D&I in all of these areas, and her carefully thought out strategies, are what enable her to create such a major impact in the D&I space.

On the supplier front, Sandy recently rebranded the PGA of America’s supplier diversity initiative as PGA VendorMatch. The term “vendor” intentionally replaced “supplier,” because in the golf industry, “suppliers” are associated with the official suppliers of goods and services at events like the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup. PGA VendorMatch’s goal is to work closely with PGA’s Tier 1 vendors in the biggest supply chain categories and match them with Tier 2 diverse subcontractors in local communities. The initiative has already seen enormous success and continues to grow the utilization of diverse suppliers.

A second group of people Sandy considers are PGA professionals and their customers. She wants to see a much greater number of people from diverse backgrounds playing golf. To pursue this goal, she and her team spend a lot of time making sure PGA professionals understand and appreciate the cultural differences across consumer sets.

For example, many golf facilities selling family memberships have structured them for the traditional family unit. However, the Hispanic population has a lot of multi-generational households. The question Sandy asks is: Does a traditional family membership meet the needs of a multi-generational household?

Diversifying the Workforce
In the workforce arena, Sandy has focused on diversifying more than just her own team of 300 employees. She thinks big and works purposefully to promote the jobs and career opportunities in the golf industry as a whole, knowing that there are 2 million golf employment opportunities in the U.S. golf industry.

"For years, the golf industry focused on growth of the game efforts, where we put a golf club in somebody's hands hoping to trigger their love and interest in the game,” Sandy said. “We still do that, but we realize that if we don't evolve the demographics of the workforce delivering the golf products, we will never attract diverse players."

In 2015, the golf industry conducted a survey of the 12 leading golf organizations (including PGA of America), and found Caucasians made up 95 percent of boards, 97 percent of senior leadership, and 86 percent of full-time staff. As a result, it was clear to Sandy, as well as PGA senior leadership, that the faces of the workforce across America had to change.

In typical fashion, Sandy went into action, spearheading the development and implementation of a strategic initiative named PGA WORKS. PGA WORKS aims to create a golf industry workforce that mirrors America through fellowships, scholarships, career exploration events, and the PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship. It also creates awareness of the fact that potential golf industry talent does not need a background in golf to pursue a career in the industry.

"Working in the gender space really opened my eyes to the world of diversity and inclusion." — Sandy Cross
"We work intentionally to get individuals from all backgrounds to understand the number of career opportunities and types of jobs in the golf industry are many and varied,” Sandy explained. “We are like any other business, and we need people in technology, finance, communications, public relations, and philanthropy as well. There are some golf specific jobs out there, but so much of what we do in golf are non-golf-related jobs."

Engaging the Unengaged
PGA of America envisions a future where the game, workforce and supply chain mirror the demographics of America.

One of the biggest challenges the industry must overcome is dispelling myths about opportunities. A checkered past filled with exclusionary practices has created the perception that the golf industry is not interested in attracting diverse players, employees, or suppliers.

"We have a lot of work to do to engage the unengaged communities," said Sandy. "We need to educate people on how we have evolved and continue to evolve."

Recognizing the industry does not have an authentic voice with many diverse groups, Sandy has partnered with diverse businesses, such as Black Enterprise, Latina Golfers Association, and San Francisco Pride. These partnerships help PGA of America carry its message to the communities who might not listen otherwise or be exposed to golf opportunities.

No More ‘Vortex of Sameness'
"We need full buy-n and engagement of everyone in the PGA of America to create a truly diverse organization," Sandy added. “There must be strong allies for D&I among key decision-makers.”

Sandy understands it is human nature to invite in people who fit what she calls the “vortex of sameness” – individuals who have similar backgrounds and demographics. Sandy's message is clear. Allies in the PGA of America and across the golf industry nationwide must invite in difference to the game, workforce, and supply chain, in order to reflect America and grow participation in the sport of golf.