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Female executive club Chief plans a West Coast expansion

Just a year after launch, the private club boasts an impressive network of more than 2,000 C-suite women. Now, Chief is setting its sights on Hollywood.

Female executive club Chief plans a West Coast expansion
Chief cofounders Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan [Photo: courtesy of Chief]

Like many ambitious New Yorkers, Chief, the private network for female executives, is going bicoastal.

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On Tuesday, cofounders Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan are set to announce the addition of an outpost in Los Angeles. The 13,000-square-foot West Hollywood space, slated to open this spring, will serve women on their way up to or already occupying the C-suite.

“Los Angeles is by far the biggest city where we’ve seen interest—not only from potential new members but current members as well,” Childers, 40, tells Fast Company.

Los Angeles will serve as the third Chief location. Due to increased demand, the company recently secured a second New York City clubhouse—a 20,000-square-foot Flatiron building that occupies five stories and will serve as its flagship. In just one year since its launch, Chief grew to 2,000 members and now boasts a wait list of more than 7,000.

Such impressive numbers pushed the cofounders to seek further investment: In June, Chief secured a $22 million round of funding led by Ken Chenault at General Catalyst and Alexa Von Tobel at Inspired Capital.

“We want to get to these other geographies as quickly as possible,” says Childers. “We’re starting to see interest come from so many places beyond New York.

Shunning social media: confidentiality is key

Modeled much like YPO, the male-dominated global organization for CEOs, Chief focuses on mentorship—pairing women with powerful contemporaries across a broad range of industries. It sorts members into groups of 8 to 10 individuals who are aligned with their level of experience for what’s dubbed “executive coaching on steroids.”

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In New York, the membership mirrors much of the city’s dominant industries. As such, the wait list skews finance, so to avoid overrepresentation of Wall Streeters, women with tech backgrounds—such as CTOs—are more quickly approved. The Los Angeles chapter will likely heavily lean into entertainment, though the cofounders stress that even within that arena, diversity exists. They plan to round out the community across various areas such as legal, finance, marketing, and operations.

“We really believe in cognitive diversity,” says Childers. “It’s so helpful when you’re trying to invest in yourself as a leader to get perspectives from people with very different backgrounds and experiences.”

Chief club house, Tribeca, New York City [Photo: courtesy of Chief]
Chief plays a delicate balance in supporting women within the corporate environment without burdening their already busy schedules. Members traditionally meet once a month at the clubhouse with their assigned group, with the option to attend further meetings or participate in the digital community.

Julie DeTraglia, head of research and insights at Hulu, joined as a founding member last January. Though making the time is challenging, she says she’s gained valuable insight from the monthly core group meetings. She is one of many members who will benefit from the L.A. expansion as her work schedule straddles both coasts.

“You have a consistent group of people whom you’re free to talk to about important issues [we have in] common,” says De Traglia.

Chief also hosts career workshops and a lecture series moderated by its own members. Past speakers included bold-faced names such as Barbara Corcoran, Tina Fey, and Amal Clooney. The latter was interviewed by a Chief member who serves as the CEO of UNICEF. As with all dealings at Chief, it was completely off the record, thereby allowing for a more intimate and honest conversation.

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“[That privacy] opens up a level of vulnerability.”

Lindsay Kaplan

Confidentiality is key at Chief, to the extent that it shuns traditional social media marketing. Chief is not on Instagram or Twitter, nor does it post photos from events. The founders feel strongly that such tactics only take away from the clubhouse’s purpose and mission.

“What started as ‘we don’t need to be on social media, we’ll figure it out later,’ became ‘I cannot think of anything that would add value right now to the members,'” explains Kaplan, 35. “[That privacy] opens up a level of vulnerability.”

Chief club house, Tribeca, New York City [Photo: courtesy of Chief]
Chief membership starts at $5,400 for VP level and $7,800 for C-suite executives. The pricing is fair in comparison to private career coaches and on par with executive conferences, which only span a few days. At Chief’s launch, some questioned the price point by likening it to other female-focused initiatives such as co-working space The Wing or women’s business conferences. They are, however, completely different concepts.

“Sometimes people group all women’s things together,” says Kaplan, noting that women at different stages in their career deserve different levels of support. Chief is strictly aimed at those with a senior leadership role, including the five million women with a VP title or above. “There’s this urgency for us to create something for women at this level that does not lump all women’s needs together, but instead designs something specifically for her that hasn’t been done before.”

Hollywood and beyond

The L.A. outpost is centered in the heart of West Hollywood on La Cienega Boulevard, down the block from trendy hotels and hot spots like Urth Caffé. The building will be solely occupied by Chief and echo much of its East Coast predecessors with six bookable conference rooms, an extensive lounge space and bar with food and drinks, breakout rooms, and an outdoor courtyard. Like the Tribeca clubhouse, the decor will feature green hues (a nod to the green room experience at conferences), but imbued with a touch of West Coast style.

Sharon Hoffman is an Emmy-award winning producer and Chief member who firmly believes the model will attract Los Angeles executives. Although she only joined the network this fall, the former executive producer of Entertainment Tonight says she has already benefited from the career workshops and Chief ‘s Slack channel, where members share articles, job leads, and potential job candidates.

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In L.A., says Hoffman, most female-focused events surround awards and honoring people, without much space for networking at a high level of business, let alone building a community.

“[Chief members] are women at the tops of their fields in all sorts of industries. They come into this organization ready to support one another and really excited to do so,” says Hoffman. “There’s nothing like it in LA.”

For all its social efforts, Kaplan is quick to point out that Chief is not a co-working space. (“Our members all are busy, they have offices and jobs,” she notes.) Instead, Chief likens itself to a community that happens to have space, versus a space that then tries to build a community. Supportive networking, they believe, will ultimately shift the gender parity gap.

Despite industry-wide calls for progress, women continue to see the corporate path strewn with obstacles, like gender-based biases and preconceived notions as to what constitutes a leader. Women hold just 5% of S&P 500 CEO titles, having dropped nearly 20% in 2018. At the current rate, society will need two more centuries to achieve gender parity in the workplace.

In response, Chief plans on expanding to more cities and adding even more services. The cofounders would not divulge specifics but did hint to a range of new digital product features slated for the coming year. Just don’t expect a millennial pink-colored co-working space anytime soon.

“Our mission really revolves around driving more women into leadership positions and supporting them when they get there,” says Childers. “Everything that we do and think about in terms of next steps for us as a company has to really align with that.”

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