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Women in Business Q&A: Pam Swensen, CEO, EWGA

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Pam Swensen

Ms. Swensen is the "face" of the EWGA to the golf industry. The EWGA is the only women's golf community with a national chapter footprint in more than 100 major cities in the United States as well as international chapters in Bermuda, Canada and Italy. This "locally connected, nationally respected" association enables current and aspiring business and professional women to learn, connect and play - through golf.

As the CEO, Ms. Swensen oversees the coast-to-coast administration and operations of EWGA which provides affordable, organized golf, a network with real follow through, business and success insights from accomplished executives, travel and equipment offerings, golf discounts, a national Championship plus a variety of local and national benefits. EWGA is comprised of a valued community of women who do like to have fun. EWGA members contribute over $63 million in golf spending annually to the U.S. golf economy.

With this "power of the purse" influence, Ms. Swensen represents the EWGA on several industry committees to "grow the game" and advocates for issues that will make the women's golf experience more welcoming. She's a member of the Golf 20/20 Advisory Board and a founding partner in the National Women's Golf Alliance. She's also a member of the EWomen Network's Foundation Advisory Council, the USGA Regional Associations Committee, The Women's Chamber of the Palm Beaches, The American Society of Association Executives, the Florida Society of Association Executives, The Commonwealth Institute and she serves on the International Network of Golf Advisory Board. She is also a member of the Palm Beach County Chapter of the EWGA as well as a graduate of the 2015 Leadership Palm Beach County Class.

During her tenure as EWGA's CEO, Ms. Swensen has received numerous honors including the 2006 Mover & Shaker award from Golf Inc. Magazine, the "Giraffe Award" from the Women's Chamber of the Palm Beaches in 2007 which recognizes women who "have stuck their necks out" in making a difference to other women in the workplace and in the community and in 2009, she was recognized by the African American Golfer's Digest with their Outstanding Leaders in Golf award. In 2011, The Symetra Tour, the LPGA's developmental Tour, honored her with the Trainor Award for the organization's work in growing women's golf. For two years running (2012 and 2013), The Commonwealth Institute has recognized Ms. Swensen as one of the top female CEO's running a not for profit organization. And in 2014, she was honored by the International Network of Golf with Industry Honors in the Business Achievement category.

Ms. Swensen holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.) and a Masters of Science in Communications from Boston University (Boston, Mass.). She is a published author as part of the EWGA Foundation's recent book launch called "Teeing Up For Success."

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Each experience whether personal or professional has served as a building block impacting and shaping my outlook, belief system and confidence in what I thought I was capable of achieving. Early on, I had the opportunity to - "manage and lead others" - whether it was the responsibilities of a college summer job (store asst. manager at 16, public safety officer, restaurant entrepreneur of the Snack Shack); being a leader of a college club; stepping up and volunteering to manage workplace campaigns, projects, public speaking opportunities; or going to school nights to get my Master's degree. I completely enjoyed raising my hand and saying: "Yes - I'd like to take on that project as I embarked on my career path." Collectively, these opportunities have provided a great back drop to help me be a better leader, especially in dealing with people, pressure situations and delivering results.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Executive Women's Golf Association?
Through the years, I have learned that 6 degrees of separation is much more like 2 or 3. With today's 24-7 full access world, you don't want to alienate anyone. The old adage, you never know who you will work for in the future is true - or what contact will be able to open a door or make an intro when you need it most. Building on positive past experiences and leveraging those networks of contacts has been a foundation that has served me well. Having worked in the golf industry now for more than 24 years, I call these experiences "Fairways to Opportunity."

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Executive Women's Golf Association?
EWGA is a great organization that is member-based. My goal is to have every professional woman have golf as part of her skill set for success. As such, the challenge is and continues to be building awareness of what this great community of women for women offers and to expand our membership reach. Since EWGA began in 1991, we have touched the lives of more than 100,000 women. We established a scholarship called Women On Par™ providing women over 30 who want to re-enter the workforce with a funding opportunity to get up to par with their skills. Our "Drive For Dreams" campaign assisted the only female golf professional in Kenya with golf supplies for her underprivileged girls and gave them tools and hope for their future through golf. Today, one of these girls is the top youth golfer in Kenya. EWGA now has an international outreach with chapters in Canada, Bermuda and Italy. Our competitive playing opportunities have expanded with new offerings including a very successful Match Play Team Competition and a Par 3 two-person team challenge along with our 20 years in running a national women's amateur stroke play competition. Plus, we now offer EWGA's Grads to Golf™ program designed to invite graduate students to participate in a 5 week program to learn about the business of golf along with an introductory playing program in conjunction with the university's athletic department and golf teams.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Don't underestimate the power of having golf as a skill set on your resume. It can be a game changer. I firmly believe few things break glass ceilings quite like golf. Leverage your contacts, play golf and build your network. Make it known to your employers that you do play. Golf needs more female role models. Our industry impacts 2 million jobs annually with an economic impact north of $68 billion. Set goals, develop a plan and work it.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Success is not a solo endeavor. Reach out and embrace your team members. And be open to change.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I am not a real fan of that term. Since priorities are continually shifting, it's about being able to adjust mid-course and handle what comes in your direction. To me, it's more about carving out "me" time to de-stress and get re-energized and the golf course does that for me. Joel Garfinkle said, "Taking time for the things that renew us make us better leaders."

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Access to the informal networks that move business forward. Catalyst did a study a few years ago about what inhibits women to succeed and it was the lack of access to informal networks where conversations and discussions occur. And golf was cited as one of those avenues. And we know that golf is the sport of business.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
It has taught me that to be successful, you need to leverage your strengths, be authentic - be you and be open and willing to share that supportive advice with others.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Meg Whitman is the first woman that comes to mind. She turned EBay into a powerhouse mixing the old and new economy which enabled other lines of business to flourish. Her leadership experience and confidence were at the forefront as she sought public office. Her ability to define, re-define and handle defeat, success and overcome challenging situations is admirable. Sheryl Sandberg is another woman I admire in how she has elevated the female leadership conversation and in particular the dueling pressures of family and professional success. And Condoleezza Rice continues to gain my admiration for her ability to utilize her experiences with such humility to the betterment of all women in leadership.

What do you want Executive Women's Golf Association to accomplish in the next year?
We are celebrating our 25th Anniversary this year. We are the golf community for women which means we are where you live, work and play. We are locally connected and nationally respected. There's no better time than now to elevate your game - both on and off the course and golf is the recipe that can help you get there. Come join us. You will meet women who have the potential to change the course of your life and your career. My "ask" and "goal" for 2016 is to extend the invite to get more women engaged with EWGA. Although, we've touched more than 100,000 women's lives in our first 25 years, there are still so many women who undervalue what golf can do for them personally and professionally - and EWGA is on the move to provide the platform, community, and experiences to make that a reality.