Inside the ‘growing pains’ at Chief, the exclusive women’s networking club with a waitlist of 60,000 and a valuation of $1.1 billion

Chief co-founders Lindsay Kaplan and Carolyn Childers appear at Collision 2022 in Toronto, Canada, on June 21, 2022.
Lukas Schulze—Sportsfile for Collision via Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! A Florida bill could ban girls from discussing their periods at school, the SVB crisis turned one founder into a social media star, and Fortune senior editor Claire Zillman shares a new story that digs into Chief, the women’s networking startup worth $1.1 billion. Have a productive Monday.

– Inside Chief. You would think that launching a women’s network shortly before COVID hit would have doomed the venture; we were barely leaving our homes, let alone schmoozing with strangers. But Chief, the exclusive, $5,800-per-year-and-up networking club for female executives, defied that conventional wisdom. Since launching in 2019, it’s grown to 20,000 members, amassed a waiting list of 60,000, and earned a valuation of $1.1 billion from backers like Alphabet’s VC fund CapitalG.

In a new story for Fortune, contributor Katherine Dunn digs into Chief’s pandemic-era success and some of the growing pains members claim it’s experiencing as it scales. (Editor’s note: Fortune offers its own membership groups for executives, including one for women.) 

Cofounders Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan sought to provide exclusivity and group coaching to female executives—vice presidents and up. As COVID hit, it pivoted to digital, conducting its key offering—”Core” groups or cohorts of eight to 12 women who meet once a month—online. Compared to startups like the now-defunct Wing, Chief was light on real estate, another COVID-era advantage.

Dunn interviewed 15 current and former Chief members for her story. Several credit Chief with helping spark incredible shifts in their careers. New York City member Sandhya Jain-Patel says her fellow Chief members coached her through the process of landing her dream job as manager of diversity and inclusion at Lucasfilm.

Yet other members interviewed for the story say they’re having a hard time seeing Chief’s value beyond the initial introductions it makes. They claim the network is suffering from high turnover and hit-or-miss matchmaking and failing to fulfill its mission to remake corporate leadership.

Chief, for its part, acknowledged “growing pains,” and says it has addressed operational glitches. It says claims of high turnover are false and that it’s making a real difference in women’s careers.

What’s certain is that Chief has hit on a powerful observation: Senior women in corporate America are stressed out, often lonely, and eager to connect with peers who understand the demands of their jobs.

You can read the full story here.

Claire Zillman

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