When Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan launched their women-only private club for executives back in 2019, they didn’t create an account on TikTok or Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Instead, they cold-emailed potential members.
Four years later, Chief still doesn’t have the types of social media accounts that businesses use for publicity—but they do have a waitlist of 60,000 applicants.
The organization’s popularity speaks to the critical void the club is filling by creating a support network for women senior executives, striking at the heart of how complicated it can be to work as a female leader.
“It’s lonely at the top, and it only gets lonelier as a woman,” said Kaplan, who now works as the organization’s chief brand officer.
The membership numbers around 20,000 and includes women with C-suite credentials in a broad range of industries—from NASA to Nike and Harvard to Walmart.
The organization is not only diverse in terms of industry—35% of Chief members identify as BIPOC, which is nearly double the number of women of color in executive leadership overall. Chief also welcomes people who identify as trans or nonbinary.
Chief maintains physical clubhouses in New York, L.A., Chicago—and now San Francisco. Members use the clubhouses as gathering places and to take meetings, but a vast majority of what the club does is online.
“These are the busiest people in the world, and they can’t commute an hour or two for a meeting,” Kaplan said.
Chief hosts workshops and forums featuring high-profile women. Past guests include Amal Clooney, Stacey Abrams and one former first lady.
“Michelle Obama was legendary,” Kaplan said. “Her pride at being at a Chief event, around powerful women, was just incredible.”
The heart of the organization’s offerings is its Core program, which is a hyper-curated—and confidential—peer group that meets virtually 10 times a year, led by a trained executive coach.
Kaplan, who led marketing for the sleep brand Casper before starting Chief, highlighted the unique demands women face in terms of mentorship.
“It’s this huge challenge and burden,” Kaplan said, “with lots of pressure and invisible labor.” Lots of non-promotable work falls onto women, she added, “and then you add on top of that the challenges that any leader faces.”
Kaplan is unapologetic about embracing what might be seen as “masculine” attributes for the brand. The name Chief is meant to lean into the notion of a head executive, and the clubhouses drape themselves in bold green and dark woods rather than the feminized pale pinks you’ll often see in other women-oriented spaces.
The Chief membership is right to embrace their power—the 20,000 women who belong manage $800 billion of the economy, according to the organization.
Yet the number of women in leadership positions is not where it should be, according to Kaplan, and she hopes that Chief will help not only drive women to the top but also keep them there.
“Women are burning out of leadership positions,” Kaplan said. “The numbers are disappointing and depressing.”
Annual Chief membership starts at $5,800 for VP-level and $7,900 for C-Level, with the majority of Chief members being sponsored by their employers. Chief+ membership for an additional $1,000 yearly fee allows for an all-access pass to Chief’s flagship clubhouses. Not all who apply are eligible for membership. Chief limits entry to executive leaders with 15+ years of experience in their respective careers.
Julie Zigoris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org