Editor Emma Ballard interviews Matthew Johnson, Acushnet General Manager of UK region as the company marks three years since they signed The R&A Women in Golf Charter

It's been three years since Acushnet, parent company of brands such as Titleist and FootJoy, signed The R&A Women in Golf Charter. They remain the only equipment brand to have done so. Editor Emma Ballard caught up with Matthew Johnson, General Manager for the UK region of Acushnet, to find out why they signed the charter, what those commitments were and how they have made changes internally and externally over the last three years.

What made Acushnet decide to sign up to The R&A Women in Golf Charter?

It was during the second lockdown at the beginning of 2021 that I became more aware of  The R&A Women in Golf Charter. At the time I didn’t know a lot about it but it really resonated with me.

At Acushnet in the UK, we’d found it really hard to recruit women into some of the roles we had. Not only recruit, but to have women to apply for particular roles. This was despite our best intentions and efforts and our HR team going over and above to make sure women were seeing these opportunities.

It was really frustrating because we were convinced we were doing the right things internally and we knew there were women out there who would be great at the jobs but we just weren’t getting enough of a response.

Finding the charter came at a good moment in time where it felt as though we needed something to help us move forwards, essentially signposting our recruitment opportunities.

In a way, it was more of a statement than anything. We were able to make pledges we thought were appropriate for us as a company that went hand in hand with our values. Although we are based in the UK our pledges and commitments had to fit the global nature of our business. So we made sure that the pledges weren’t just about what is right in the UK - it represented everyone around the world at Acushnet.

Our charter pledges were something we could sit behind and knew we were going to stick to. The first two pledges were very much about opportunities and employment for current & future employees and the next three were about how we go to market and how we present our products to women and to offer opportunities to women through the game of golf.

Luckily it was a period during one of the lockdowns when I had time to think about it. My frustrations with recruitment were such that it meant a lot to me to do something, and therefore it just got some momentum and people started to take notice.

We had a good group internally of like-minded people, with two-thirds of them being women, that really wanted to do something. They're the group that did the hard work in terms of covenant with the pledges and putting the charter together.

What was the initial impact externally?

The product and promotion part was actually the easiest for us. Even before I joined Acushnet, I would say that we were representative of gender in our marketing. Since the charter, we have used female golfers even more openly in our marketing. Our work with both women’s tours (LPGA and LET) went up a notch, as did the resources those players.

In terms of elite amateur golf, we've invested in more people to make sure we can get to more young golfers. Within the fitting side of the business, we must have one of the biggest teams in the industry, we did more dedicated events for women. To make sure that they felt comfortable in that environment rather than having to come to an event where maybe this isn't quite right for them.

It’s not something we’ve shouted about. We’ve just thought differently about what we think women want and how can we be more appropriate about getting our products to them and giving them experiences where they can see and test our products.

What effect has the charter had internally at Acushnet?

About a year before the charter we launched our guiding principles, which incorporated mission, vision and values. That was quite important for the charter because it got everybody in the business to buy into our expectations and how we work together.

So when we started talking specifically about the charter and our focus within the business, I think everybody was in a good place to be able to deal with that. So culturally, that was really quite important.

Those mission, vision, values and our guiding principles got updated about 18 months after that, globally rather than just as a UK project. So culturally, I think our values keep people working, not so much in the right lanes, but just respectful of each other more than anything. And I think that's the important thing.

More specifically in the UK, we’ve looked at things like our benefits. Something as simple as maternity leave has been made more appropriate. We want to make sure that when people are considering Acushnet as a place to work, when they look at our terms and conditions, when they look at our benefits they go - that's really good.

We've had working parties on our terms and conditions, we've done consultations with our staff, we've worked out what are the things that mean a lot to them as current employees and what they think would mean a lot to future employees. I think that's the biggest change internally.

You’re still the only equipment brand signed up to the charter. Does that surprise you?

Yes, it does surprise me but equally, I know because of my connections within the industry that other companies are focused on women and they’re doing it their own way.

One of the things most important here for me is that signing the charter in itself will not make us better. In particular, the big thing for me personally is for us to improve employment opportunities for women, we have to work with like-minded organisations. That might be with competitors, or governing bodies, even media outlets like yourself.

Unless we can work together to promote the golf industry as a fantastic place to work across numerous different vocations, not just the obvious ones, then it's going to be a lot slower and harder battle to win. So whether or not people signed a charter or whether they're doing different things, I'm steadfast in my belief that working together with other organisations is pivotal to being successful in this space.

Can you give an example?

There are so many opportunities in the golf industry for women, whether it’s finance, marketing or sales, operations, HR, you name it, but it’s just really hard to recruit into some roles.

An example from us was that we were recruiting for a really exciting role last year. We had well over 100 applications but only two were from women. It’s just not good enough to me. I know that golf itself has traditionally be seen as a male dominated environment, which we have to work to change perceptions. But I know there are women out there doing great sales roles within the golf industry and outside of the golf industry. So how do we promote arguably one of the best roles in golf and make sure more women see that and take up the opportunity to apply?

Can you expand on the golf industry working together?

I understand that working together is not necessarily the easiest thing. But I think the best thing for us in this space was during the pandemic, we saw all areas of the golf industry come together in a way that we've not often seen before. I think it's really important that we don't lose that togetherness. And that's the way we will appeal to more people and different demographics quicker, is a consistent voice. So we are seeing more of that. It's nice that we're seeing more of that, but we just can't rest on our laurels.

How has the golf industry changed over the last 20 years?

The golf industry has changed quite a lot. When I started back in 2003, it was relatively rare for people to come into the golf industry who weren't very good golfers. I was a pretty high handicap golfer when I started but I had experience of working for some big brands, and I think the golf industry was looking for that type of experience. I think naturally, that has opened up the golf industry to more people, both male and female. And that's a good thing.

That window of opportunity is opened up for more people now so we need to make sure that women appreciate the breadth of employment opportunities.

Take our head office in St. Ives. We have manufacturing, engineers, operations, marketing, distribution, logistics, customer services, HR, sales,  finance, catering, and the list goes on. The opportunities across the business for the almost 400 people we employ is just incredible.

Making sure more people can see that it’s not just a good career opportunity, but an enjoyable place to work. That's the work we've got to do.

I’d agree that during my 21 years in the golf industry it has always been viable for women, but we've got a lot more work to do to keep pressing that point and make sure people see it as a more obvious career option.

What is Achusnet planning in the women’s golf space this year?

We resigned with the LET recently. We have agreements in place with England Golf and well known people like Iona Stephen and Sophie Walker. So that's really positive for us.

Our fitting teams and our next generation teams have spent time with England Golf girls' squads, making sure they're kitted out and they've got the right equipment for the season ahead. That's really positive. Our Team Titleist team are looking at doing a women's event following the success of our event at Woodhall Spa last year. We’re also looking to do more women’s golf club fitting events, like the recent one we did at The Belfry for International Women’s Day.

Actually, one of our most recent employees has been in this fitting space, Danielle Carr-Thomas, is our new Fitting Manager leading our team of Product Specialists across the UK & Ireland, which is really encouraging.

I am also part of a global team focused on our DIB (Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging) activities, from which we will be launching a campaign shortly internally & externally, I can’t give too much away just yet but I know it will be really helpful to our local Women in Golf endeavours.

The final thing I would say is about our product offering. Sometimes it's quite hard for women to actually see certain products at retail and therefore sometimes there's not a lot choice when they go to a golf shop. That must be really frustrating when you really want to buy something, whether that be some clothing or some shoes, and then you get to a shop and there's not a full breadth of products.

We're working really hard to find ways to make sure our product can be seen and experienced by more women. I don’t know what that is yet, but we need to think differently working closely with our retail partners about how we take our products to market for women, probably more specifically in the FootJoy space than for Titleist. That's something that I'm really excited about that our teams are working on.

Acushnet are always seeking passionate individuals to join their growing family. If you are driven, innovative and eager to make a difference, they’d love to hear from you. Check out all the current roles on their careers site

Acushnet pride themselves on fostering a collaborative and inclusive work environment so if you are looking for a new role that is not listed on their careers site, please reach out to their recruitment team for a chat - [email protected]