A course in DEI

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and its potential staffing impacts were a topic of discussion Feb. 7 at the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show.


DEI presentation at GCSAA Conference and Trade Show
Dan Meersman, chief planning officer and director of grounds and facilities at Philadelphia Cricket Club was one of three presenters on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion practices for golf course superintendents at the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Orlando. Photos by Roger Billings

Dan Meersman can attest to the fact that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) on a golf ocurse can take many forms.

“I have had an autistic employee for five years. To give this person a sense of purpose has been amazing to watch,” says Meersman, a 23-year GCSAA member at Philadelphia Cricket, club, where he also is chief planning officer and director of grounds and facilities. “To see what it’s done for him, and for his father, who is able to go run errands for a few hours while his son is at work, means a lot to him.”

For nearly 90 minutes today, Meersman participated in a GCSAA Conference and Trade Show Power Hour titled “Make Your Business Better with DEI.” He was joined by Brandon Bell, Ph.D., Diversity and Inclusion Lead for Syngenta North America, and Pam Brown, retired golf superintendent and currently senior manager lift operations at Keystone Resort in Keystone, Colo.

Bell delivered a series of messages on diversity and how to approach it. “See how you can broaden your mindset,” Bell says. “Think, ‘How will I think differently after having a conversation’ and ‘how do I grow and change and how can I be better?’” 

In recent years, DEI has become more prevalent, with colleges even offering bachelor’s and masters degrees in the topic. According to LinkedIn, individuals with DEI degrees hired for diversity and inclusion positions grew by more than 70% from 2015 to 2020.

DEI presentation at GCSAA Conference and Trade Show
Brandon Bell, Ph.D., Diversity and Inclusion Lead for Syngenta North America, also presented on inclusive hiring practices during the Tuesday session.

As for Brown, having served as superintendent often included the hiring process, in which diversity and inclusion play significant roles. One slide in her presentation noted that benefits such as paid parental leave, child subsidies, paid family sick time and health insurance go a long way toward supporting diversity and inclusion while also boosting retention and spurring staff morale.

Another slide that garnered interest for attendees centered on how an employer and even other current employees may judge a job candidate. Examples included how employers and staff members decide to mentor an individual because they recognize something of themselves in them. Brown also noted an example of an employee complaining to an employer that a new dad on the team is taking too much of his allotted family leave. Brown didn’t exclude herself from how she has acted in these types of circumstances on occasion. “By the way, I’ve done all of these. I’m guilty,” she says.

At Philadelphia Cricket Club, Meersman is a third-generation superintendent who has had 35 of his staff move on to become superintendents. He is proud of that, and of the diversity on his staff. “We have six women and nine countries represented on our staff,” he says. “I focus on where we can do better. Our club has been progressive, inclusive. That’s not to say we don’t have a lot of work to do.”

Meersman offered suggestions for people that do what he does, whether it is re-engaging with the human resources department at your club or cement the backing of club leadership. “Meersman said, “Get stronger support for your initiatives. You need the backing of club leadership.”

Effectively working for diversity, equity and inclusion may be a more complex process for some than others, but as Bell says, regardless of your situation, it has everything to do with simply giving people a chance. “You don’t have to be a DEI expert,” Bell says, “See it (inclusion) as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.”

Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor.


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