Club empowers women for C-suite jobs

Group to help women ascend to top ranks

By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN Business
iStock/kzenon

NEW YORK - Life is easier when you have someone in your corner who understands what you're going through, especially if you're a woman in the C-suite or want to be.

That's the idea behind Chief, a private club for women executives that helps them ascend to the top ranks and stay there.

Launched this year by Lindsay Kaplan, a former vice president at mattress company Casper, and Carolyn Childers, a former senior vice president at home cleaning services company Handy HQ, the club connects members to each other in a variety of ways. Each member, for instance, is matched with 8 to 10 professional peers who are in the same age group. The groups meet regularly to talk about life and career issues and the discussion is moderated by an executive coach.

Chief also regularly sponsors events like poker night, career development workshops and small dinners and salons with a top business leader, such as venture capitalist Susan Lyne of BBG Ventures and Jet.com founder Marc Lore.

The bar to become a member is pretty high: Chief only accepts executives with a vice president title or higher. The annual membership fee is $7,800 for C-suite executives and $5,400 for everyone else. Men may join if they share the philosophy that more women should be in leadership positions.

There are four basic rules members are asked to follow: Show up for each other and for club events. Check your BS at the door. Keep what's shared confidential. And "meet your fellow members where they are, talking to them based on your experience, not your opinion," Childers and Kaplan said.

 

What members are saying

 

Chief member Kristin Davie, 51, a senior vice president of global production at fitness company Peloton, re-entered the workforce full-time at age 43, after spending a dozen years as a stay-at-home mom who kept her foothold professionally by doing short-term assignments.

Davie said her core group has been "just what I needed."

What she finds especially helpful is how supportive and encouraging those in the group are to each other. "How easy it is when someone's struggling for everyone else to see how strong and able that woman is and say you're not giving yourself enough credit," Davie said.

Karen Pascoe, 50, a senior vice president of user design experience at Mastercard, said she joined Chief because she wanted to make an investment in herself, to better articulate her capabilities and to learn from others what taking on a broader set of responsibilities looks like.

"[It's great] to have a cohort that's a sounding board and a critical peer group that can poke holes in my thinking," Pascoe said, noting that her group helps her see where she has blind spots but in a "very nonthreatening, noncompetitive" way.

Arielle Patrick, 30, a corporate wunderkind who is already a senior vice president and transactions director at communications firm Edelman, said she is learning a lot from other members about how they handle the stress of balancing a high-powered career with having a family.

"I'm learning what's possible, and how it works," Patrick said. "Lindsay [Kaplan] is a perfect example. She'll tell me some war story about getting her kid to bed but then we share ideas about VC funding."

In fact, Patrick noted many of the conversations she's had with other club members focus less on work than on life and what fulfillment looks like.

Another big benefit for her is the Slack channel for members, which she finds is a great way to share new business opportunities.

Saloni Varma, a 39-year-old VP of finance at yogurt maker Chobani, joined Chief "to network with women who are like-minded and are at a similar stage in their career."

Varma has an eye toward becoming a chief financial officer. But, she said, "I don't want to set myself up for failure. I want to ensure I'm ready for it." It really opened her eyes when a member of her core group told her, "A guy would never think like that."

She's also been eager to improve her communication skills in group settings and on investor calls. She's found that a club workshop with a communications specialist, as well as the experience of fellow club members, have been very helpful to her.

 

The struggle to reach gender parity in the C-suite

 

Chief is just five months old. But it already has 500 members. While it's currently based in New York City, it has a waiting list of applicants from across the United States as well as abroad, the cofounders said.

Kaplan and Childers see that pent up demand to create chapters elsewhere as a "Bat-Signal."

While the experience of women climbing the corporate ladder has improved over the years, there's still miles to go to achieve a level playing field.

"Sponsorship is a challenge. There's a case to be made that it's harder for women ... to get someone to champion and advocate for you and let the organization know not only what you've done but what you're capable of doing," Pascoe said.

Davie spoke of the more pervasive cultural influences that result in women being more reluctant than men to advocate on their own behalf.

"I was raised to be grateful for any job someone gave me and whatever they wanted to pay me. Most of my male colleagues weren't raised that way," she said.

Davie's fellow members at Chief remind her "not to fall back into those old norms."

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