According to a 2019 study by organisational consulting firm Korn Ferry, women hold just 25 percent of C-suite professional roles—executive-level managers such as chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO) and chief information officer (CIO). After interviewing dozens of current and former female CEOs, it was discovered that most of them “hadn’t even considered vying for the top spot until they had a sponsor tell them they were well-suited for the role.”
“It’s critical that both talented women and those around them focus on creating a clear path for advancement,” said Jane Stevenson, global leader of Korn Ferry’s CEO Succession Services.
This is where an organisation like Chief comes in.
Founded by Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan, the professional social network provides community, mentorship and guidance for women who are breaking through the glass ceiling.
“I really spent more time mentoring younger women than I did looking for mentorship for myself,” Kaplan explained of her career prior to founding Chief, as reported by Inc. “We felt as we were climbing up the ladder, as many women feel, that there was nowhere for us to go.”
Membership is limited to C-suite managers and rising VPs. Several factors are considered in the application process, including the woman’s experience, organisation size, numbers of members on her immediate team, the reporting structure, budget size, awards and credentials, thought leadership and impact, and nominations from current Chief members.
Over 2,000 women across New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are among the ranks, many of whom are leaders at companies like Google, IBM, HBO, Visa, Doctors Without Borders and The New York Times. About 8,000 people are currently on the waiting list.
“We all know it gets lonely at the top, and it gets a lot lonelier a lot earlier for women,” Childers told TechCrunch. “Women are on panels or on the circuit and they’re exhausted. This is a community they don’t have to be the one in the spotlight and feel all the pressure, but can actually be supported in a network of women who feel the exact same way.
“These women are the only person or one of the few people in their organisation who have hit that level of leadership, and really need support from people who get it.”
The company’s Core Groups are a vital part of the Chief membership experience. Held monthly, these meetings are led by a professional figure with over 10 years of experience in leadership development and executive coaching. The groups are made up of 8 to 10 women who are grouped together according to life stage, responsibility level and career experience.
“There has never been more visibility on women in leadership, but progress has stalled and the numbers have stagnated,” Kaplan said in a statement. “Our goal is to get more women in the C-suite and keep them there — and accelerate positive change as quickly as possible.”
Chief offers a variety of events for its members, including celebrity fireside conversations, workshops on media training and board seats and intimate dinners with some of the top names in the industry. Whoopie Goldberg, Tina Fey, Julianne Moore, Marc Lore and Lindsey Vonn are some of the celebrities who have been featured at Chief events. Members also have access to the company’s Tribeca clubhouse and its chat app to foster open connection and discussion with other women in leadership.
“As a woman reaches the top of her career, her decisions carry more weight and are more impactful within organisations, yet often her circle of trusted peers shrinks,” Childers explained. “By linking women who collectively hold court across boardrooms, Chief members are able to keep their seats while ushering in the next generation of female leaders.”
Fees to join the exclusive network are a bit steep. Executive-level members pay $7,900 annually, while VP-level members pay $5,800. About 40 perfect of the members are executives and 60 percent are VPs. According to Chief, about 30 percent of its members are ethnic minorities.
For people from non-corporate or underfunded organisations, the company offers a “membership grant” to bring the cost down to $3,800 a year. In any case, the yearly fees are often cheaper than the price of a single professional conference.
The network has recently received $15 million in funding from General Catalyst, Inspired Capital, GGV Capital, Primary Venture Partners, Flybridge Capital and BoxGroup—bringing the company’s total funding to $40 million. The funds will be used to facilitate company growth, meet demand in new cities and advance the company’s technological infrastructure.
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