We bet you’ve seen a fair share of headlines — and T-shirts — that proclaim the future is female or embraced mantras like Create & Cultivate’s powerful “Collaboration over competition” recently. But what does empowering women really look like? According to Lindsay Kaplan and Carolyn Childers, founders of the newly launched network for female leaders, Chief, it’s still about helping one another break through a glass ceiling. We caught up with the dynamic duo to understand what the term really means, how they see the future of work, which women inspire them, and the advice they dish out regularly.

Chief founders, Lauren Kaplan and Carolyn Childers

Brit + Co: How do you define the “glass ceiling”?

Lindsay Kaplan: There are deeply entrenched cultural biases holding women back in the workplace. It impacts promotions, compensation, and decision-making. This invisible barrier stops women from rising beyond a certain level in their career — generally at a senior management level. The metaphorical “glass ceiling” may be see-through, but data shows it’s as strong as reinforced concrete. Even as well-known initiatives have taken up the cause in the last few years and increased awareness, nothing has made a dent.

At the current rate of change, it will take more than 200 years for women to reach equal standing as their male counterparts in the workplace. That’s why we’re so excited to launch Chief. Our goal is to build a rich community of powerful women to support each other and overcome the invisible force stopping all women from getting to the top.

B+C: Why do so many women experience trouble breaking through a glass ceiling?

LK: Unfortunately, bias in the workplace comes from years of organizational and cultural underpinnings that have instilled disappointing behavioral patterns. But change doesn’t start in the HR department. To see a major shift in equality, a devotion to change must be a priority at the executive level. Chief is working to unite women in senior leadership roles to provide them with confidential support and use their influence to create lines of succession so that the next generation of women has more opportunities to succeed.

B+C: Which female powerhouses do you count as inspiration for breaking through the glass ceiling, and why?

Carolyn Childers: We’re thrilled to point to one of our investors, Alexa Von Tobel, as inspiration. She is the epitome of badass business woman — she launched LearnVest in 2009 and later sold it to Northwest Mutual. Alexa dropped out of Harvard Business School to pursue a dream and is now launching a firm to make funding available to a wider audience. Aside from raw intellectual horsepower, she is decisive, determined, and unstoppable.

LK:Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is also a big one for us. She is resilient, determined, and confident in the face of opposition. She’s also an agent for social and political change. She demands action and commands the room.

B+C: How can professional women help support and empower one another to forge ahead, push the limit, and break through?

CC: So many women in leadership roles give time, advice, and help to people who ask for it that they often overlook their own needs. Mentorship and support are crucial factors for success at any level. We encourage women to find mentorship across ages, employers, and industries to truly engage in cognitive diversity.

Start by finding someone in your industry whose career and skills you’ve admired or want to emulate, then make the ask! Come prepared with questions, and be honest about what you’re looking for. And just because you made the ask does not mean you shouldn’t come with something to offer in exchange — reciprocity can help foster a continued connection.

B+C: What excites you most about 2019? What excites you most about the future of work?

CC: I have never seen so much noise and energy around powerful women — and the voices are only getting louder. We’ve seen headline after headline touting the cultural impact of women in business, and this year we hope to watch that power snowball. The future is female, and so is the future of work. I’m excited to see more women in the highest seats of power. They are the gatekeepers of change, the profits of pay equity, and the stewards of progress.

LK: Work-life balance is not a thing — it was never a thing! I’m excited to see workplaces get smart and enact better policies around parental leave, and family leave, and work from home time.

B+C: Which groups and resources have inspired and helped you in your career?

CC: One of the best places I have met people later in my career was the green room. When I’ve spoken on panels, the organizers always pop the speakers into this room beforehand to mingle and chat. In that 20-minute block, before we hit the stage, I’ve met phenomenal people outside my typical network.

Candidly, the process of building a network is a very manual and time-intensive effort. I met a lot of great people through events or groups, but those relationships never went deep enough to feel like a true network. And for the majority of my career, I wasn’t invited into that room!

B+C: What’s the number one piece of advice you offer young, female professionals who aspire to succeed as founders and/or executives during their career?

LK: You’re going to have to wear a lot of hats — you need to be your own personal business manager, agent, head of ops, and publicist. But the truth is, you’ll never be able to do it all alone. That’s why it’s so important to build your network and have a solid support system to lean on.

What do you think about the future of work? What do you hope to achieve in your career? Share your goals with us on Twitter @BritandCo.

(Photos via Chief)