If it’s lonely at the top, it’s a lot lonelier when you’re a woman,” says Lindsay Kaplan of the realization that moved her and Carolyn Childers to start Chief, a private membership network focused specifically on female executives.
Kaplan, a former vp at mattress company Casper, and Childers, a onetime senior vp at home-improvement marketplace Handy, created Chief “as a way to connect and support executive leaders,” says Kaplan, adding, “There are a lot of amazing organizations out there for women in business, but we felt like the executive woman was overlooked because she often became the de facto mentor or the speaker on panels at those organizations.”
Since launching in 2019, the group is now at 20,000 members, welcoming female execs from the likes of Disney, Netflix, Paramount, Shondaland, A24, UTA and Capitol Music Group. Annual membership dues range from $5,800 for vps to $7,900 for C-suite execs, with the majority of fees covered by employers, and women must apply or be nominated to join. It now has clubhouses in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and London, and in 2022, Chief closed a $100 million Series B fundraise, valuing the company at $1.1 billion.
Chief’s L.A. outpost, situated on La Cienega Boulevard just off Melrose Place, opened in 2021, but in a limited capacity because of the pandemic; two years later, the space is finally open for member events, like a recent Women’s World Cup party hosted with Megan Rapinoe’s lifestyle brand RE-INC. The stunning space was brought to life by architect and designer Tanya Paz of TAP Studio, in partnership with in partnership with JM|A+D and AvroKO, who reimagined a venue that had been a puppet theater in the 1940s and ’50s.
“We unearthed this huge wall of celebrity signatures where they used to have roasts,” Paz says of the renovation. The club features large conference rooms as well as smaller meeting spaces, a bar and a lounge.
Paz makes clear it was not designed as a co-working space “where you go and just plug in. We want it to be a space for people to connect with one another, to share ideas, to touch down.” Heather Somaini — chief administrative officer at Hackman Capital, whose properties include Culver Studios and the Radford Studio Center — has been a member since 2021 and notes, “I always compare it to the Soho House, [but] in so many ways I feel like it’s so much more accessible.”
Chief’s membership offerings include access to workshops, guest speakers, community events and Core Groups, which are curated sets of 10 to 12 women who are grouped based on their level of job experience and meet every month with an executive coach. In L.A., the majority of members work in entertainment, but they also include execs across fashion, tech and other industries.
“You’re with 10 other executives who get what you are going through: all of the pressure that is on your shoulders as women executives, and we have these confidential conversations that allow people to really talk about things that you can’t necessarily share with your colleagues or people who are potentially vying for your job or have political intentions,” says Kaplan. Members sign confidentiality agreements to ensure conversations say within the group.
Somaini notes that frequent Core Group topics include imposter syndrome and frustrations over sometimes being the sole female executive in a room. She highlights “getting amazing real-time feedback from other women who are in similar positions — maybe at totally different companies — but are dealing with the same type of issues. That’s been super invaluable.”
Diversity is also a focus at Chief. Though only 18 percent of women in corporate America at the vp level and above identify as a person of color (according to a 2018 McKinsey study), Chief reports that 33 percent of its community identifies as women of color. The group committed $5 million in grants last year to cover those unable to pay for a membership. They also feature DEI programming and identity groups and have a $1 million annual commitment to donate to causes for reproductive rights and supporting young female leaders.
And though L.A. is no stranger to private clubs, Kaplan says Chief operates in its own lane: “What we do is really special and focused on community-building and changing the face of leadership.”
This story first appeared in the July 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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