Is Empowering Corporate Women Enough?


Chief, a women's leadership network, charges up to $7,900 for admission, granting members access to executive coaching, high-profile speakers, and a network of female executives. The company, which operates five sleek clubhouses for an extra fee, has grown to over 20,000 members and $1 billion in value since its founding in 2019. However, some members have recently criticized Chief's approach to diversity and political issues on social media, prompting questions about the club's purpose. While Chief's founders claim to have donated to abortion access groups, issued statements in response to racial violence, and listened to members' input, some have called for the network to be more socially and politically engaged. Others defend Chief, stating it has been helpful in advancing their careers. This debate sparks a broader question: should female executives work toward amassing power or prioritize issues facing marginalized women?

In early March, a member of Chief network named Denise Conroy announced her departure from the group on International Women's Day. She accused Chief of neglecting political issues and ignoring women of color who were interested in becoming members. However, Conroy was later reprimanded for attempting to sell tickets for an external workshop using Chief's platform, which violated the company's policies. Her post received over 5,000 reactions and sparked a larger discussion within the Chief about the direction of the community.

Rachel Hassall, a supply chain executive, has left Chief this month following a discussion hosted by CEO Carolyn Childers about the book "White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better." Hassall and other members shared frustrations about the organization's approach to racial inclusivity, causing Hassall to feel ashamed about her membership. Chief's founders maintain that their mission is to advance women's leadership in business and not social advocacy, and they point to statements released by Chief after incidents of racial violence and donations to racial justice nonprofits. Thirty-three percent of Chief's members are women of color, and the organization says it treats all applicants equally. Membership fees range from $5,800 to $7,900 annually and include access to executive coaching, workshops, meet-ups, a job board, speaker sessions, and clubhouses in select cities. Applicants are considered based on their job titles, company size, and team management experience, and can apply or be nominated for membership.

The founder of Chief, an exclusive women's network focused on executive coaching, Gabby Hirata, has stated that it was challenging for her, as a first-generation immigrant, to climb the corporate ladder. Hirata credited Chief’s group coaching for providing her with the exposure to observe how senior executives carry themselves. However, some members have criticized Chief for better serving white women’s professional experiences rather than that of women of color. Sibil Patri, a Vice President at an asset management company, explained that she felt the women of color could not relate to the problems discussed in group coaching sessions. She eventually quit Chief, emailing them to suggest designing a stronger curated experience for women of color. The company defended its inclusivity efforts, citing four percentage points higher retention rates for women of color this year compared to white women. Some members defended Chief, with Sandhya Jain-Patel enthusiastic about the club’s zealous support for entrepreneurial ideas. Jain-Patel complained about the high cost of membership and criticized Chief's strategy of charging members for access to executive women’s networks and coaching, which she believed should be more widely accessible. Chief's founders, Carolyn Childers, and Lindsay Kaplan, said they initially only accepted members near their clubhouses but expanded their reach due to the pandemic. Chief has since grown rapidly, with a waiting list of 60,000, and raised $100 million in a Series B funding round led by Alphabet's growth fund, CapitalG.

Chief, a female empowerment organization, gained popularity after the peak era of the 'Girlboss' and 'Lean In' movements. However, leading a company focused on women's empowerment became difficult after the Supreme Court ended nearly 50 years of federally protected abortion rights. In response, Chief joined a coalition of businesses opposing abortion restrictions, donated to organizations supporting reproductive choice, and hosted educational programs. However, some members felt that the Chief could do more to address the issue in a sustained and public way. Despite differing opinions among its 20,000 members, Chief is facing a period of tumult. Its founders are currently reflecting on responses from members and holding listening sessions. As Madeleine Albright said, "there's a special place in hell for women who don't support other women," and some members hope that the Chief can listen to feedback and continue to empower women.

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