Diversity and Inclusion in Sports, with PGA of America’s Sandy Cross

With 28,000 PGA professionals and over 2 million jobs in golf, PGA of America Chief People Officer Sandy Cross has a lot in her plate, and as she puts it, a “workforce diversification challenge,” with a workforce that’s “a little bit homogenous, from a demographic perspective.” Sandy recognizes that “we have to evolve the composition of that workforce if they’re going to attract Americans diverse consumer to play the game.”  How will the PGA of America accomplish this?  Tune in to today’s Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast.


Jackie Ferguson: Hi, and welcome to season four of the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast sponsored by The Diversity Movement. I’m your host, Jackie Ferguson equality advocate and certified diversity executive. On this show, we discuss how diversity, equity and inclusion benefit our workplaces, schools, and communities by sharing the stories, insights, and best practices of game changers, leaders, and glass ceiling breakers that are doing the work to make our world a more understanding, welcoming and supportive place for us all.

Jackie: I’m so excited to welcome Sandy Cross, Chief People Officer for PGA of America, a member of the PGA of America team for 25 years, Sandy’s experience spans licensing and marketing, partnership sales and management, and women’s initiatives. In 2014, she successfully launched the PGA’s diversity and inclusion initiative. Sandy, welcome to Diversity Beyond the Checkbox. I’m so glad to have you today.

Sandy: Thank you, Jackie. It’s great to be here. Thank you for inviting me. 

Jackie: Yes, of course. Sandy, let’s jump into, your career. How did you get started with the PGA? And can you tell us what you’re responsible for as Chief People Officer? 

Sandy: Well, it’s interesting how I got started Jackie, because I was not specifically pursuing a career in the business of golf. I went to graduate school at Kent State University to pursue a master’s in sport administration. And I knew I wanted to work in the business of sports, but I really fell into the PGA of America opportunity through an employment agency.

I started out as a 90-day temporary employee. No golf background, no knowledge or experience, and it’s grown into really a beautiful career. So, I feel incredibly blessed. Right now, as our chief people officer, which I have been since January of 2019, I have the pleasure of overseeing our inclusion, equity and diversity practices for the PGA of America, as well as influencing them in the broader golf industry as well.

And then also overseeing our human resource’s function, which we call the people team. So, it’s a, it’s a lot of fun. It’s really challenging, especially over the last year with the pandemic and the changes in America relative to, social justice. It’s, it’s been quite a challenging time, but interesting and fun too.

Jackie: That’s awesome. Sandy, is this where you thought you would be at this point in your career? 

Sandy: No, it really isn’t. And I get that question a fair amount, Jackie, especially from young professionals who sometimes think that I set out to become a Chief People Officer or Chief Diversity Officer, and that I had this lateral climb up the proverbial runs of the ladder, but it wasn’t that way at all.

I mentioned, you know, I kind of fell into the temporary employment opportunity, which blossomed into full-time work. But I’ve been really fortunate to move around the PGA of America. The early part of my tenure was in our business development group, working with our valued corporate partners and bringing in new corporate partners on the sales side.

But then I did a complete pivot over into what we call player development, and I had the opportunity to oversee the, what we called the connecting with her strategic initiative, and that was designed to bring more women into the sport of golf and retain them in the sport of golf. And the work in the gender space is what opened my eyes to the broader dimensions of difference, the world of diversity and inclusion. 

So, I went to our leadership and said that I would like to lead that for the PGA of America. And I was given the opportunity to set up the diversity and inclusion department, the team, the strategic plan, and then that evolved to a Chief People Officer role. And it wasn’t an intentional path, but a very organic and natural one 

Jackie: I love that. And you know, it’s so important because very often, as you said, young people early in their career, think they need to have it figured out. Right? And so often you get these amazing professionals that I get to talk to and leaders in their industry, like yourself. You know, they’ve, they’ve kind of taken a winding road towards, the, you know, the role that they’re in and, and it’s okay. Not to have it all figured out some for saying that. 

Sandy: Absolutely. 

Jackie: Yeah. Sandy, tell us the difference between PGA of America and the PGA tour. You know, often people get those mixed up and by people I’m talking about me. So, share with us the difference, if you would.

Sandy: That is a great question, Jackie and a frequently asked one almost daily. So, the PGA of America and the PGA tour are wholly separate organizations. We used to be one organization and we split in the late sixties. And the reason for the split was our focuses and our missions are different. You think about the PGA tour they’re comprised of; I believe five men’s professional tours.

So, these are the touring professionals that we see on television week in and week out competing at the very high level for what we call purse dollars. And whereas the PGA of America, we are a professional trade association. You could almost think of us as similar to the American Bar Association or Certified Public Accountants.

We represent nearly 28,000 men and women, PGA professionals, who’ve elected a career in the business of golf. They’re working at about 10,000 golf facilities around America, and they are managing the golf operations at those facilities. They’re teaching the game or coaching the game; they’re running tournaments and outings.

So that’s really our sweet spot and our bread and butter. But I want to mention that while that’s our focus and our mission to serve those PGA professionals and grow participation in the sport. We also own and operate some of our sport’s largest championships. So, the Ryder Cup, the PGA Championship, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, most notably. So, they, those are kind of the economic engine that fuels the, what we do for our membership. 

Jackie: Awesome. Thank you for explaining that. That’s important to understand, so thank you for that, Sandy. You often credit your success in part to having a growth mindset. Can you tell us about what that means and why that’s so important?

Sandy: Absolutely. Yeah, I think about a growth mindset and that’s the idea for me of being coachable, being hungry, and recognizing that you can always learn something from somebody else and you can always learn something from every single situation. And I think if you come to situations and come to conversations and come to relationships, with a growth mindset,

That’s actually a very inclusive approach, kind of an others first mindset. What can you learn? What can you take away? How can you improve not only yourself, but improve the relationship, improve the outcome? I think it’s incredibly valuable. And I look for that when I am looking for a perspective, talent for the PGA of America team individuals who have a growth mindset versus fixed mindset 

Jackie: And Sandy, that that’s so great. Tell us, how do you know when someone has a growth mindset? What are you looking for in those interviews? 

Sandy: Well, one example, and I was reflecting upon this yesterday. We have 10 summer interns at the PGA of America, and one in particular, Taylor Green, I was telling her yesterday that I think one of her greatest attributes is her growth mindset.

And she posed kind of that same question. Well, you know, why did you say that? Or kind of, how did you know that about me? And it’s because she regularly asks questions. If they’re not transactional questions or she’s just going through the motions or trying to put the spotlight on herself. They’re really thoughtful, reflective questions on whatever the subject matter is and why we’re doing something or how we might want to approach something differently.

So that’s a key thing that I look for. Jackie is somebody who is truly inquisitive, reflective, and wants to deeply understand the why behind something. 

Jackie: That’s so important, Sandy, in any industry. And also, when you think about engaging with other people and diverse groups, if you’ve got that kind of mindset, as you’re approaching conversations, approaching new information, it’s so much easier to engage with people and to learn, and to embrace, you know, identity. So, I love that, thank you for sharing that.

You often talk about a four-pronged approach to inclusion. Can you tell us a little bit about that and why each of those prong’s matter? 

Sandy: Yes. Four key areas of commitment at the PGA of America, when we think about our diversity equity and inclusion practices and our approach. It’s really important to us from the get-go that we embed this effort across all of our lines of the business.

And not, while we had a department, we didn’t want to like prop up this silo and relegate the effort to a few people, you know, down the hall, in one department who are going to look after diversity and inclusion for everyone. We knew that we had to embed it across the entire organization and partner shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues to help them look at their line of the business, through what we like to call the lens of inclusion.

So, while that is our philosophy and our approach, there are four areas. And actually, I haven’t shared with you yet, we’ve recently added a fifth. There’s four areas that we are heavying up in. 

The first one is education and skill development. Absolutely, the most critical. It’s been a key focus since day one, and it will continue. We have to make sure that not only our team at the PGA of America, but most importantly, our 28,000 PGA professionals around the country, understand what is diversity and inclusion? What is the business case for it? Why does it matter? And then most importantly, how do they operationalize inclusion at their facility? Because that is what we call the point of play. That’s where consumers interact with the game. They either have a great experience or maybe not a great experience, and then they don’t come back. So, education and skill development is critical. It’s ongoing. It’s really forever in my mind.

Workforce diversification or workforce development is a second area of key focus and there are 2 million jobs in golf annually, many jobs, and a lot of them, Jackie, I want the audience to know don’t require necessarily background in golf, playing ability, skill, experience, or knowledge. And I’m a perfect example of that, didn’t come from a golf background. But when we think about the 2 million people working in golf, right now that workforce is a little bit homogenous, from a demographic perspective. We recognize we have to evolve the composition of that workforce if they’re going to attract Americans diverse consumer to play the game. The whole idea of its human nature, to want to see others that either look like ourselves or come from backgrounds similar to ours, if we’re going to engage in a leisure time activity. 

Next, we have vendor inclusion. Golf is an $84 billion a year economic engine in the United States. And we think about that supply chain, who’s benefiting from the economics of golf and how diverse is that supply chain? But if we can bring in more women owned, minority owned, LGBT owned, veteran owned businesses into that supply chain and they’re benefiting from it, their interest in participating in the sport, picking up a golf club is probably going to blossom because they’re participating in the economics.

And then fourth, we have community engaged. We recognize that there’s a lot of, sometimes real and very often perceived barriers about entering the sport of golf. There are individuals who are also financially under-resourced and we don’t want finances to be a barrier to come into the sport. So, community engagement is really focusing on reducing, eliminating real or perceived barriers among individuals who are historically underrepresented in our sport. 

And then lastly, Jackie, I’d mentioned a fifth area of focus that we’ve added on in its governance. We are a professional trade association, as I mentioned, and we have a constitution and bylaws and governance to our leadership model in our association. We have chapters, sections, and national level of governance. We have to make sure that the individuals seated around those boardroom tables are reflective of the consumers and the workforce we want to attract to our sport. We’re getting better, but we’ve got a long way to go to really have those tables, mirror America.

Jackie: Well, Sandy, thank you for sharing that. That is so important, and this can apply to any organization, any industry, as you think about how to, approach inclusion in, in your organization. So, thank you for sharing that, that was, such valuable information.

Sandy, tell us about PGA job match. 

Sandy: Oh, sure. That PGA job match is relatively new for us and it fits in our workforce diversification area of focus. It’s a very intentional effort to identify and invite, I emphasize the word invite individuals from a variety of backgrounds and identities and abilities who are underrepresented in the workforce and invite them in to take advantage of part-time and full-time employment opportunities around our major spectator championships.

So again, Ryder cup, the PGA championship, the KPMG women’s PGA championship. When we build those events, they are essentially cities. Most of them are two-to-three-year build-out. So, the, the immediate months, weeks and months leading up to a championship, during the championship, and sometimes after the championship, we have hundreds of shifts that we need to fill each day with skilled and unskilled labor in a variety of roles. But it’s so neat, Jackie, because it gives these individuals the opportunity to get really a front row seat to kind of the business and the magnitude and the energy around golf, what it takes to build a major championship.

And it’s everything from transportation, logistics, audio visual, decor, food and beverage, construction, electrician, anything to build again these cities and these major championships. It’s, it’s a really cool effort. And also, as I mentioned, it’s a paid employment opportunity, plus skill development and experience for those individuals resumes.

Jackie: I love that. You know, so often when I talk to individuals about, you know, where they are in their career and where they’d like to be, you know, unless you’re seeing people that look like you right in these industries, in these roles, it doesn’t, you know, very often what happens is people think, well, I can’t reach for that, right, but I love that you’re intentionally making these outreaches to bring in culturally diverse, individuals into your workforce. I think that is really fantastic. And, and it’s such a huge industry, you know, I don’t think we realized how big an industry it is and how many jobs are available. I think Sandy, you mentioned 2 million jobs. That is incredible. Thank you for sharing that. 

Sandy: And Jackie that’s one of our biggest challenges is getting the word out. The size and scope and scale of the industry, the number of jobs, the variety of jobs. And again, the fact that for many of them you don’t need golf skill, knowledge, experience, or background.

Yeah, so that’s been a big challenge for us, especially in communities that are currently underrepresented in the game and the workforce. We’re trying really hard with some strategic inclusion partners to get that word out. 

Jackie: Absolutely. Absolutely. Sandy, when you led diversity equity and inclusion for a PGA of America, can you share some of the best practices and maybe a couple of lessons learned around the challenges that you encountered in that role?

Sandy: Sure. A couple that come to mind or really stand out for me. One is, you know, early on, we were very focused on bringing diversity in the door, so to speak, at the PGA of America. Getting diverse talent, recruiting diverse talent, and we were successful. We’ve we brought diverse talent in the door, but what we didn’t focus on was ensuring that we had an inclusive environment for those individuals to succeed in.

So, we’ve, we’ve learned some lessons, some hard lessons. And we now, really Jackie, we lead with inclusion. I’ll often talk about I&D or inclusion and diversity. Let’s have that authentically inclusive workplace environment, and then the diversity is going to kind of naturally reinforce and, you know, beget itself, if that’s, if that’s the right language.

So that’s one of the key learnings. Another one, and we continue to practice this that I’d love your audience to think about is being transparent. Really owning, being honest about talking about where you are as an organization in your inclusion journey. Where are you? What are you committed to and how are you getting there?

And further on that point, it’s been really important for us when we’re having conversations, particularly with communities of color in most notably with the Black community, that we are very upfront about and take ownership of our past. And when I talk about our past at the PGA of America, relative to diversity, there was a very dark period from 1934 to 1961, where in our constitution and bylaws of the association, we had a Caucasian only clause. You had to be a Caucasian male to join the PGA of America. Some years after we also opened up to allow women to join, but it’s important for us to acknowledge that and frankly, continue to acknowledge that. 

And that has played into the composition of the PGA of America membership that we see today, and also to a degree, the composition of who plays the sport of golf in this country. It’s had a multi-generational adverse impact on participation in the game and the career path. Consistently getting better. I’m really, encouraged, especially from a consumer standpoint about the racial diversity that’s coming into the sport.

Definitely have more to do on the, on the workforce side and PGA membership side as well, but we’ve got work to overcome from those decades ago, still playing out.

Jackie: Absolutely. Sandy with that said, and you know, certainly that the, the bylaws as interesting, you know, not everyone knew about that. But what do we do now to create more inclusion in the sport? And we’ve talked about it a little bit more, but you know, golf is a sport where you’re invited to participate. Right? You don’t wake up one morning and say, I’m going to take up golf. Sometimes, but not often. So how do we get more participation from culturally diverse people and more invitations extended? How, how can we go about doing that? 

Sandy: Well, Jackie really nailed it because the power of the invitation is critical to the golf industry’s ability to grow diversify and sustain itself. I really view it as a mission critical. We talk about our mission growing participation in the game, which ultimately serves our PGA professionals.

The growth can come through invitation. Those that are currently playing the game, those that are currently working in the business, those that are currently in the supply chain, they have to invite difference in. Invite someone that’s comes from a different background than your own to pick up a club, come to the practice range with you, come to a company scramble, consider them for a career opportunity. Let them be at the procurement bidding table. 

Those invitations are incredibly powerful, but further on that point, we recognize at the PGA of America, we can’t just run around and extend these invitations, because some of them frankly, may come across as inauthentic or empty because of that past that I described, we don’t have necessarily the credibility that we need yet, or the authentic voice that we need yet, particularly in communities of color. You know, we can’t just March in there and be like, hey, come try our sport, come try our career path. What’s going to give us that authentic voice that we need with those communities who’ve been historically under engaged?

What we’ve done is we formed some various, deliberate inclusion, partnerships, strategic inclusion partnerships with organization. Some are in golf, some are outside of golf, the Latina Golfers Association, Black Girls Golf. Jopwell, which is J O P as in Peter, W E L L from a recruiting standpoint, they have an authentic voice with the Black community, the Native American community and the Latin X community.

So, they’re helping us speak to individuals in those communities because they have that authentic voice and that relationship that we don’t have, speak to them about the career paths in golf and you know what you do or don’t need to be able to join. So strategic inclusion partnerships are critical to our ability to extend authentic invitation.

Jackie: That is so important because very often organizational leaders will have these great intentions and want to bring in diverse talent, right, diverse employees. But you have to be authentic. You have to be intentional. You can’t necessarily, recruit, as we talked about earlier, diverse talent without laying the foundation of inclusion at your organization first. And then you can’t, you know, just reach out and say, you know, hey, come join us and extend invitations when you’ve not done the pre-work to be ready to properly engage and include and create a sense of belonging for those folks.

So, I love the intentionality, and working to create authentic relationships, messages. That’s so important, for any organizational leader. 

Sandy: Thank you. 

Jackie: Yeah. Sandy, you earned the designation of certified diversity professional from the Institute of diversity Certification. That’s also where I earned my certification. Tell me a little about why those designations are important?

Sandy: What was critically important for me? I didn’t come from a diversity and inclusion background as a, you know, academic or practitioner, if you will. Because I described earlier, I kind of grew into this space organically using my growth mindset, you know, started out a little gender centric space and grew from there.

Uh, but I think it’s important. It really grounds the individual in the fundamentals of diversity equity and inclusion practices. You know, there’s a, there’s a lot to it. You know, there, there is a legal side to it, but there’s a lot of philosophies and fundamentals and strategies to be learned and deployed.

So, I think it’s important for that, that foundational grounding. And I also think it helps illustrate the individuals and the organization’s commitment to the practice of inclusive leadership. You know, if you’re, if you’re spending the time and the resource and the focused energy and effort on scaling yourself up and getting credentialed, in that arena, I think it speaks again volumes for the individual and the organization that has them on their roster, that they are committed.

Jackie: Absolutely. Absolutely. Sandy. Do you play golf? Right? And then how are you any good? I’m interested. 

Sandy: I do play, I did not play when I started at the PGA of America, but once I knew I was staying, I quickly decided I better learn. I’m like, okay, if I’m sticking around the PGA of America, this is a sport I want to learn.

And, and I think it’ll benefit me. And I’m really proud of my playing ability, Jackie. I’m a higher handicapper, the audience may not all be familiar with handicap, but it’s a means to measure one skill and play any ability in golf and I’m at the higher level.my skill level is lower but I am very confident on the golf course.

I can get around the golf course comfortably. I can keep up with my teammates or those that are in the group in front of me and really have a nice time. And then I made sure that I choose the tees. There’s different tee placements and tee yardages that you can select. And I make sure I choose the tee yardages that are appropriate, for my playing ability. So, yes, I’m good. It’s all relative. 

Jackie: And Sandy, tell me, why do you like golf? Why is it fun? I’ve actually never played golf. 

Sandy: I am specifically inviting you now, we will have to figure out when, where, and how we can get together, but yeah, I would love to accompany you to the practice range and to the golf course and get you going.

So that would be great, but the one thing I love about it the most is really just the relationships, the opportunity to deepen relationships, build new relationships and do it, in amazing and beautiful settings all over the country, all over the world if you want. It’s just, it’s a connector. It’s a, it’s a shared love, a shared passion.

It opens doors, it opens conversations. It’s just an entree to a lot of different things. If there’s a lot to it, it’s very multi-dimensional and unique. 

Jackie: That’s so true. I mean, golf courses are beautiful all over the world.so yes, I would love to take you up on that Sandy and, you know, enter into golf as a, as a sport. So, I’d love to do that. Absolutely. 

Sandy: And Jackie, if I could just add, you know, it’s interesting in the, I don’t know if I should say in the wake of the pandemic, it’s sometimes it’s hard to know where we are with the pandemic, but golf has really benefited, in the face of the pandemic, because it’s a, it’s a sport and an activity that individuals can engage in in a pretty responsible way.

You know, it’s an outdoor setting. There’s ways to distance yourself and, you know, not be contacting certain surfaces. So, golf really has seen a boom in participation due to the pandemic. Again, individuals who’ve never tried the sport and individuals from diverse backgrounds and abilities are trying it, and I’m hoping loving it, and we are focused on retaining them. But we’ve really benefited because of the unique attributes of the sport.

Jackie: Absolutely. It’s so true. You get, you get to be on these beautiful courses, and you’re outside, and you can, you know, keep your six feet of distance, right, or more, but still engage with people which is different from a lot of sports, and that’s so true, Sandy.

Sandy, why do you say that golf is transformational for people?

Sandy: I touched on it a little bit. There’s so many of what I like to call the joys of the game. There are personal joys and professional joys, personal and professional benefits to the game. And again, it’s a connector and a door opener. One of the, maybe best illustrations I could speak to or share about the transformative power of golf.

Is a program we have called PGA Hope and Hope stands for Helping Our Patriots Everywhere. And this is a program that our foundation PGA reach runs and they are delivering, our PGA professionals are delivering golf instruction, for veterans, for our nation’s heroes. And they’re delivering it in a way.

They’re using golf as a modality to help rehabilitate our veterans. And that could be physically, socially, emotionally, cognitively. We actually have a memorandum of understanding with the VA that allows, us endorses us officially in our practitioners to use golf as that modality and use it in that way.

To transform lives, help heal our veterans. And honestly, Jackie, in some instances has helped save lives of veterans. We have had veterans talk about golf has saved their lives, literally. So that’s probably the, you know, the biggest example I could share the most transformative power that they gain.

Jackie: Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. This is my favorite question to ask and I ask it of every single guest, because I’m always interested in what I hear and I always hear something really cool. Tell us something about you that not a lot of people know.

Sandy: I would want to share, especially since we’re in a golf themed conversation, my husband and I met on a golf of course, and we got engaged to be married on a golf course. Again, I had no access to golf growing up, wasn’t exposed to it. Ultimately have had a beautiful career in the business of golf and also the personal joys of the game that I’d met my husband through golf. We met on the golf course and got engaged on a golf course.

Jackie: That’s fantastic. And when he proposed on the golf course, were you playing? Give us a little bit of detail.

Sandy: We were at the golf club of Georgia and we were finishing up on the 18th green. And he had put the ring in the hole, in the cup, on the 18th green.

So, when I put it out and went in to get my, my ball, retrieved my ball, the ring was in there. Well, it’s funny because I had my foot joy golf glove on my hand at the time. I probably should know cause I was putting, but, so I put my hand out for the ring and I still had my glove on.

Jackie: That’s awesome. Wow. That is super romantic. That is so great. Well, thank you for sharing. 

Sandy: Sure. Thanks for asking. So fun story. 

Jackie: Oh, of course yeah, it is. That’s a beautiful story. Sandy, what would you like to leave our listeners with today?

Sandy: When you think about the inclusion and equity and diversity space, just commit to constantly moving forward constantly have forward momentum. I think oftentimes in sometimes it’s in the face of public pressure organizations are quick to look for the big win in the D&I space. The big, you know, public relations announcement or photo op, or maybe a check writing exercise. 

But I think oftentimes the things that matter most and have the greatest impact in our most sustainable over the long haul, are those smaller micro moments of inclusion. It’s the invitations, inviting people to tables that they may not otherwise be invited at, inviting a perspective from someone you may not normally invite a perspective from, sharing your perspective with someone you don’t normally share it with, looking at your company’s language and imagery.

Language is powerful language creates culture. What are the words you’re using or not using? What are the images you’re using or not using? So, when I’m trying to say Jackie is it’s those, those smaller things. I like to call them the micro moments of inclusion, and again, I think add up over time for real sustainable change versus this kind of sometimes, you know, one and done quick wins, photo opportunities, social media post type of initiative.

Jackie: Sandy that is so well said and such excellent advice for all of us. So, thank you for sharing that. Thank you, Sandy so much for spending time with me today and with our audience, we have enjoyed it. Thank you so much for all of the insights and sharing so much new information for many. About the PGA of America and about your professional journey.

So, thank you again. I really enjoyed this time, 

Sandy: Jackie. You’re very welcome. Thank you as well. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity and I hope everyone in the audience will consider participating in the game or the workforce and or the supply chain. The opportunities are tremendous, and again, transformational for those who engage.

Jackie: Absolutely. Thank you, Sandy. 

Full Episode Transcript

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Diversity Beyond the Checkbox is brought to you by The Diversity Movement, hosted by Head of Content Jackie Ferguson, and is a production of Earfluence.  For sponsorship options, email info@earfluence.com.

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