Could the New Generation of Exclusive Clubs Be a Win For Women?

The Musto Bar at San Francisco’s private club The Battery is for members only. Image Source: The Battery

Think of a traditional country club. Do you picture a literal old boys’ club? Ever since private sports clubs rose to prominence in the 19th century, rich men have paid an exorbitant amount of money for the chance to spend time around other well-connected and successful men from similar backgrounds with the added benefit of becoming more connected and more successful. The traditional country clubs aren’t just for golf, tennis, and martinis — they’re a place to network and make business deals. And until recently, women were often excluded from membership. In fact, many country clubs still have explicit men-only policies.

A new generation of social clubs is upending the country club model. You can think of them as “city clubs.” They appeal to urban professionals looking to add structure to their social and professional lives, without the golf or tennis or even extremely high membership fees. For much less money, members get just the clubhouse. Reflecting a decline in popularity of golf among millennials, the social activities revolve around dining, drinking, and cultural programs like lectures and concerts instead of sports. Many of these clubs offer extra amenities not easily accessible to city dwellers, like relaxing outdoor spaces or rooftop pools. And while Sunday brunch might be a family affair, the leisure activities are typically more adult-focused than at your average suburban country club.

While they cost a fraction of the price of traditional country clubs, there’s no denying that city clubs remain exclusive by design. Membership requirements are vague, and the selection process still acts as a way for people to filter who they spend time with, often resulting in a group made up of people with similar means. As American society deals with rising income inequality, these clubs demonstrate a modern form of social segregation by economic class. Still, the serendipitous connections made in social settings are part of the unspoken rules of getting ahead. By disrupting the traditional country club model that previously benefited extremely rich white men in classic fields like law, finance, and real estate, this new generation of city clubs opens the networking gates to more people. Some clubs even actively try to maintain an equal balance of men and women. Considering that, there’s reason to think these clubs could be a win for high-achieving, creative women.

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