The Barbie movie crushes the pyramid scheme


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.

8 replies
  1. Vasant Sanzgiri
    Vasant Sanzgiri says:

    I completely endorse the views stated in this article, as I have experienced the thought process my wife, who worked because she enjoyed what she did, and never craved the C-suite, though by sheer performance she was moved into diverse business-critical roles in her company. And when for certain reasons (not her fault) she did not get the C-suite job, she was motivated to excel further in her domain, leading to her getting immense respect and admiration. I too admire her focus on enjoying what she does and doing things best for the organization and the people in it. I have seen that when women try to act like men, and power-hungry, they go all over to get it compromising not just the organization but the people. This is no leadership behavior and so they are feared till they hold a role, then the same disappears once they move out, as there no one has respect for a selfish, dont care for anyone or anything attitude person.

  2. Katie
    Katie says:

    Thank you for writing this. I get so mad about initiatives claiming to help women. Even when they don’t help, it’s taboo to say otherwise.

    I really wanted to join Chief in 2019 when I had just been promoted to VP and had no peers at that level. I craved advice from someone a couple steps ahead of me as I pursued the COO title. But they rejected me and didn’t follow up for 3.5 years.

    Now that I’m a c-level, they’ve reached back out. But why on earth would I pay $8k/year to connect with peers. I already did the things they claim to help with in order to be where I am.

  3. Dana
    Dana says:

    -How can you make sweeping statements about what all women want? You speak for yourself and not all women.

    -If you are going to list stats, site your sources. All of your stats seem questionable.

    -Most physicians aren’t 100% clinical because they have other academic responsibilities, and are still working full time.

    -How is Chief a pyramid scheme? Is there a monetary incentive to bring in new members?

    -Many of the women in the LulaRoe documentary are in Mormon communities where they are pressured to not work outside the home but yet the husband doesn’t make enough money to support their large family. I’m sure many of them would prefer a traditional job, but are unable to have one.

    -Why are affinity groups based on location or interest strange? They make perfect sense. Connecting with people who are close to you geographically or share similar interests doesn’t make sense to you? Ok.

    -It seems to me like you are trying to justify your own career choices. That may resonate with some women, (the ones who have decided careers aren’t important), but some of us still have ambition – even if you no longer do.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Dana, I have a hunch that you’re an entrepreneur because only someone who works for themself could be this adamant about women and power in public. Chief helps women climb the corporate ladder — totally different than running their own business. So you and I are in the same place — working in an arena outside of Chief’s purview, and it doesn’t seem like you would fit into Chief’s shenanigans any more than I would.


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