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Forget golf courses and cigars: A new networking startup is focused on executive women

Golf courses. Steakhouses. Cigar bars. These are the stereotypical images that come to mind when picturing male executives networking. A nearly year-old startup is taking advantage of this cultural moment — the long-overdue focus on diversity and gender equality — and creating an alternate kind of networking opportunity. 

“For generations, there have been these places where men typically have an opportunity to come together and blend professional and personal. And for women, there just wasn't that place,” said Carolyn Childers, co-founder and CEO at Chief, a private network for senior executive women. Its physical homes are two clubhouses in New York City, with more to come in Los Angeles and elsewhere. 

Judging from Chief’s business, there appears to be a lot of demand for high-level female networking opportunities. The company opened last January and has 2,000 members from companies like Spotify (SPOT), Walmart (WMT) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), with 7,000 on a waitlist to join. Chief recently raised $22 million in a funding round. 

Ginni Rometty, now-former IBM chairman, president and CEO, speaks during a keynote address at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

“Unfortunately, when you think of a women's professional network, you often think of kind of the warm white wine and the, you know, cheese over in the corner that's a little sweaty, and it's not something that's actually aspirational,” Childers told Yahoo Finance’s On the Move on Friday. “We wanted to build a space where people were excited to come, they could have those confidential conversations, which is what they're ultimately looking for. But to do it at a place that didn't feel like another corporate office, and actually felt like a brand and an experience that was really elevated.”

Only 29, or 5.8%, of S&P 500 CEOs are women, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on making workplaces more women-friendly. Ginni Rometty became the latest top female executive to step down when she announced her retirement from the helm of IBM on Thursday, although the percentage should remain stable because Jennifer Johnson will begin as chief of Franklin Resources as of Feb. 11. 

“We're a community that happens to have a space, not a space that then tries to build a community,” said Childers. She said members use the community to compare notes on jobs and salaries, and to share best practices. One member “is trying to do a work from home policy within her organization, got great feedback across the community and was able to not only take that and apply it to her company, but everybody else that was part of the conversation was able to take that learning and really create that ripple effect across different organizations.”

Julie Hyman is the co-anchor of On the Move on Yahoo Finance. 

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