Hail To The Chief: Network Providing Support for Women in C-Suite
Naming their new private support network for women in the C-suite, Chief, was a problem for some who thought the title was too masculine.
And that is precisely the problem.
Co-founders Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan who launched Chief this month in New York say the cultural assumption that a chief is always a man is just plain wrong. And waiting more than two centuries—at this rate—for gender parity in CEO roles is too long.
“The name shouldn’t feel masculine,” Childers says. “Women are chiefs too. It is rooted in a powerful feeling and just because it is a women’s organization,” the name does not have to be overtly feminine.
“We do not want to ask permission for that power,” Kaplan adds. We can take control of it.”
Backed by $3 million in seed money in a round led by Primary Venture Partners and Flybridge Capital Partners, with participation from Accel, Box Group, Able Partners, XFactor Ventures, Silas Capital, and Alexa Von Tobel, Chief has and 200 members and more than 3,000 on the waitlist,
Chief “is focused on supporting and connecting more senior, powerful women,” Childers says. “These are women who are VP’s and above, creating the right experience and building lines of succession.”
At the current rate of change, it will take over 200 years until gender pay parity is reached. Women hold 4.9% of CEO roles in the U.S., UK, and Europe. In 2018, the number of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies fell from 32 to 24.
According to Chief, members range from C-Suite executives from Fortune 500 companies to founders of startup brands, publishers of major newspapers, heads of major advertising agencies, and executives across industries including tech, retail, enterprise, the arts, finance, media, and nonprofits. Founding members come from companies including Walmart, HBO, Spotify, WeWork, PepsiCo, AmEx, Away, and Hearst.
With the announcement recently from PG&E Corp. “that CEO Geisha Williams was stepping down,” here is “the first exit of a female CEO from the Fortune 500 this year—bringing the total down to a measly 27 or 5 percent. What’s more, her resignation means the U.S.’s top 500 companies by revenue has lost its first and only Latina chief executive, according to Fortune data,” according to Fortune.
“It’s not enough to simply talk about building better pipelines to leadership,” writes Tanya Tarr in Forbes. “Whether in business or politics, the way forward is to build a new norm around women being in power. Stop asking for permission. Instead, we need to invite people to join us in completely rebuilding our notion of power.”
That is what Chief intends to do.
Aware of each through business acquaintances, Childers and Kaplan met about two years ago, before deciding over a coffee meeting that they were united on addressing the challenges for women needing support as they aimed for the C-suite.
“In that meeting we had the epiphany that we had been giving so much ourselves to mentoring and making a difference that we weren’t giving that time and attention to ourselves,” Kaplan says.
After graduating from Boston College in 2001, Childers worked for three years for Deutsch Bank as an investment banking associate. From there, she worked for Avon as manager of strategy and business development from 2004 to 2006. It was after that she went to Harvard Business School, graduating in 2008.
Childers joined Victoria’s Secret as manager of commercialization and worked there until 2009, before becoming the head of Soap.com where she stayed until 2013.
“I worked exclusively on business in South Korea and e-commerce,” Childers says, commuting back and forth, before joining Primary Venture Partners and working on Handy HQ, where she helped grow the business to more than $100 million, she says.
“We have both been senior employees at startups and have a passion for being founders and being able to take the help (we need),” Childers says.
For Kaplan, who graduated from Brandeis University in 2006 with degrees in English literature and creative writing, she went first into publishing, working at Oxford University Press until 2008.
“I was working on the dictionary and decided I was more interested in a faster pace,” Kaplan says, who then joined Time Out New York, where she worked until 2010 before joining the staff of Elle.
In 2010, she became the “first social media person” at Publicis, before working as a marketing director at City Maps and Chloe + Israel until joining Casper in 2014 as vice president of communications and brand. Kaplan says she helped Casper grow to a $300 million business.
“The more Carolyn and I talked, the more I realized until I can get my time machine to work properly, I look at Chief as the way to break through those numbers,” Kaplan says.
Chief has four elements of service for members, Childers explains.“The first of the services at the core of what we provide is the peer group model.” That means eight to 10 members meet monthly with an executive coach facilitator in the New York Chief offices.
“We have plans to go city by city,” Childers says, but for now it is in New York.
The second pillar of services is the Salon Series, Childers says. “These are events you can opt in, with captains of industry at private dinners or workshops. Giving sessions on how to get on boards or learning media training.”
Third pillar is the physical space of the Clubhouse where members can have meetings and events. The fourth is the digital component of the Chief app, a “community on the go,” Chiders says, to reach out to other members.
“We have had an overwhelming response,” Childers says. “As women get more senior, the most meaningful experience is to connect with their contemporaries.”
Kaplan adds, “We are bringing together women who can drive systemic influence. The number one thing women are looking for is mentorship. The number two thing is a powerful network.”
Chief is modeled after other senior executive services and has a tiered pricing model for annual membership, with C-level executives at $7,800 and VP-level executives at a membership cost of $5,400. The vast majority of members receive company sponsorship and grants are available to those who do not have access to company learning and development budgets, according to Chief. This hopefully will ensure a mix of cognitive diversity at Chief, according to Chief materials.
The mission is simply to have more women in C-suites in this country and beyond.
“The reality is there is a pipeline problem, but there are five million women in the VP level. Our vision is to have this vetted network of next generation power players,” Childers says.
“We hope to have the next president in our network,” Kaplan says. “Our goal is to hold ourselves accountable and measure our success. In five years, we hope to see long term impact on broader numbers. Then maybe keep them all staying in the C-suite.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com