Speaker highlights importance of raising attention to the discrimination of women

Friday, April 1, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:58 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

Martha Burk is a petite, middle-aged woman with graying hair. When she speaks, people listen. On Thursday, Burk’s message was clear: Get their attention.

In an afternoon press conference at Stephens College, Burk announced that a class action lawsuit had been filed in San Francisco against Smith Barney, alleging pay and promotion discrimination against women by the Citigroup, Inc. division.

“Lawsuits get people’s attention,” Burk said.

In the evening, Burk, chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, gave a lecture at Stephens on the topic “From Augusta to Corporate America: Inside the Cult of Power.” The event was the finale of a Women’s History Month celebration at Stephens. Burk spoke of her experiences leading the NCWO in a protest against the male-only membership of the private Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia — location of the annual Masters Golf Tournament. This year’s tournament begins Thursday.

Burk said the denial of women from a golf club is a symbol of a much larger problem. In her new book, “Cult of Power: Sex Discrimination in Corporate America and What Can Be Done About It,” Burk lists more than 1,000 compa-nies and organizations with senior level management who maintain memberships at Augusta. Sanford Weill, CEO of Citigroup, is one of them.

“Is it just a few guys playing golf?” Burk asked the audience. “I don’t think so because we started to look at some of the things going on in the companies.”

Membership at Augusta is public acknowledgment that gender discrimination is acceptable, Burk said, listing pay equity as one of the major forms of gender discrimination still facing women. Burk said she doesn’t buy the excuses that men work in riskier jobs, or more dangerous jobs, or that women choose to be parents as the reasons behind gender pay differences.

“Why are women punished in the work force for being parents and men are not?” Burke asked to applause. “There is something wrong.”

An audience of more than 50 people, mostly women, turned out to hear Burk speak. Margee Stout, who said she saw discrimination similar to that at Augusta at an organization in Philadelphia years ago, was frustrated that it could still happen.

“It’s one thing that I think men can go smoke in clubs and I prefer the beauty parlor, but the fact that such business was being conducted in (Augusta’s) halls and women are being excluded is very anti-women,” said Stout, listing poli-tics, economics and others as topics discussed within Augusta’s private grounds.

Burk challenged women and men to work together in the fight against the power structure.

“Get their attention,” Burk said. “And we did get their attention today, at least of Citigroup.”

Missourian reporter Maureen Waters contributed to this story.

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