I was an early adopter of a bad attitude toward Chief — as soon as they announced they’re “a network of 2000 female executives on their way up.” I don’t think there are 2000 women in all of corporate America who want to climb up the ranks to be CEO.
This year Chief raised $100 million from investors “to help female executives connect with their peers.” What? Why would women who are already successful want VCs to build them a network of successful women? VCs can’t even build themselves a network of successful women.
My economist crush, Claudia Goldin, just published her book Career and Family that is the pinnacle of her career as a data ninja of gender equity. Everything I’ve ever said here about women and work is in her book.
Goldin says that after women feel power over their own destiny, they want a more traditional, gendered role in life. A great example of this is the Barbie movie. We can love that movie now because if Ken treats Barbie badly and they get divorced, Barbie gets to keep half the money.
Once women feel their own power, they don’t want to make their whole life about their job, but they see that anything part-time or half-throttle gets no respect at work. So they quit.
48% of all women with college degrees marry a breadwinner
70% of women with Harvard MBAs don’t work full-time
80% of women with a medical degree don’t work full-time
Barbie has held dozens of jobs including doctor, astronaut, engineer and CEO. Today her outrageous resume reads a lot like her outrageous body: Camp. Fun. From another time. Goldin shows that the better educated you are, the richer you are, the more likely you are to quit working. McKinsey shows there’s no more glass ceiling, just a dearth of women who have any interest is crashing through it. This is why high-level women are in huge demand and need no extra help from Chief.
Did you see the documentary about the LuLaRoe pyramid scheme? The reason so many women overlooked red flags about LuLaRoe is the women wanted so much to stay home with kids but they felt pressure to earn money. The LuLaRoe movie is the flip side of the Barbie movie. Both speak to the trend of women choosing more gendered roles for themselves.
If LuLaRoe is the pyramid for women who quit their jobs, Chief is the pyramid for women before they quit. The only actual executive-level women with Chief are investors in Chief and recruiters (who probably wonder Where all the good candidates?) After that Chief hit a wall, because most female executives turn down money and promotions to be with their kids.
The big rule of corporate life is LINE MANAGEMENT. That is, if you want to get to move up you have to be responsible for revenue rather than being part of a cost center. Chief started specializing in attracting women in cost centers, and then focused on female-dominated industries like education, and Chief offered affinity groups like “Chicago” or “Marathons” that sound more like Eventbrite than executives.
At that point the Chief network settled into a pyramid-scheme model and invitations to join became automated. I know because I made a fake account on LinkedIn with a fake title at a fake company, and I received an email. But it reads like the target audience is investors who have heard too many complaints that Chief is all-white and all-BS:
“We vet every candidate through this interview process to ensure we are building a diverse and dynamic community of true professional peers.”
You can tell a lot about someone by how they choose to reassure you. The phrase “true professional” is a phrase never uttered by true professionals.
Chief’s business model is a masterclass in bait-and-switch: “We started as [blah blah] executive women get to the top…. and now we are connecting women to their peers.” This is the same model LuLaRoe used to grow fast — the messaging slips and slides until the company is offering nothing to the people who join.
I’m stunned by how many VCs endorse the idea that high-performing women would think Chief could help them.
When startup founders pitch investors the first slide in the deck is the problem slide — what is the problem the startup addresses? Whatever Chief showed investors, it was wrong. Because the only problem Chief addresses is that investors don’t deal with high-level women. Ever.