A Club that Predates Confederation is Still Ahead of the Times
“Although Parliament was where the politics of Canada happened, the Rideau Club was where the relationships of Canada were built.” That line, from Savoir Faire, Savoir Vivre: Rideau Club 1865-2015 by Christopher McCreery, still perfectly embodies what the club is about today, says Carol-Ann Goering.
Goering, the General Manager and Chief Operating Officer of the Rideau Club, describes it as a welcoming place. “Our members are a diverse group, so there are some lively discussions,” she laughs. “But at the end of the evening, members give each other a hug and a hardy handshake when they leave, and they’re back the next week for another thought-provoking conversation.”
Although the social club is celebrating its 155th birthday next year, they are changing with the times. As the first COO of the Rideau Club, Goering is one of only a few women at the top of members-only clubs, which have traditionally favored male leadership. It’s part of a shift that Goering herself is leading as the first female President of the Canadian Society of Club Managers, and she is thrilled to have been recently appointed to lead the change in support of the Board’s long-term goals for the club.
“One of the ways we are growing our membership is by encouraging diversity,” she explains. “We want to be more reflective of the faces of Ottawa.” Last year they had a record number of new members, a 300 per cent increase over their average, in part due to efforts to not only include more participation from minority groups and women, but also opening themselves up to new industries. Formerly known as predominantly government, the club now has a significant number of members who are leaders in the arts, technology, nonprofit, law, finance, and many other industries. The goal of the club is to be representative of the unique ecosystem of the Nation’s Capital.
Clubs are all about relationship building, it’s about understanding member needs, and it’s about sharing the special moments in a member’s life.”
They are also opening their age demographic. Their youngest member is 24 and their oldest member is 102 years old. Offering networking opportunities to younger members, giving them the opportunity to rub elbows with leaders in a variety of professional fields, can make all the difference in the course of a career. “We like to think we’re helping to enrich the lives of future leaders in Ottawa,” says Goering.
They have also partnered with women’s groups, such as Elevate International and Women in Defense and Security, to bring women in to show them the benefits of membership. They have a speaker series that often features women in leadership; recent talks include the Honourable Jean Augustine, a Grenadian-Canadian educational administrator, and Alexandra Badzak, the head of the Ottawa Art Gallery.
Through policy change they are also making the atmosphere more welcoming for women members by relaxing the dress code and opening the club to children. In the past, children under 16 were not allowed in the club without permission. Now you can bring your child with you to meet a friend or have a business lunch.
In addition to offering an exceptional dining experience and networking opportunities, the Rideau Club also offers wine tastings, speaking events, and even cooking classes with their executive chef—one-on-one lessons on how to make sauces, prepare a duck, or even make their signature chowder. Membership provides access not only to networking opportunities with other members of this club, but also with 160 clubs in 40 countries around the world. If you’re on a business trip anywhere from Toronto to Auckland, New Zealand, you can book a table and enjoy the exceptional hospitality of an affiliated club. “At the end of they day, for us, it’s about the member experience,” says Goering. “Our vision, and what gets us up in the morning, is the opportunity to create a memorable experience for our members and their guests.”
The club is welcoming a female President in the coming year, and with Goering as COO, it will be two women leading the charge. Their leadership team is about 70 per cent female already, and they are proud of the strong women in those roles. “For me, clubs are the perfect profession for women,” Goering says. “Clubs are all about relationship building, it’s about understanding member needs, and it’s about sharing the special moments in a member’s life.”
Indeed, they have one employee who has worked there for over 56 years, and, as a club ambassador, still attends member events. She recognizes members from when they attended the annual Christmas parties as kids with their parents, and is now there to welcome them to club events with their own children.
“We have many employees at the club that have been there for 15 or 20 years,” Goering says. “They’ve known the members for years, through good times and bad—through the birth of their children, or the death of their spouse. What a feeling it is to come to the club and be known; to be taken care of by people who care about you and your experience. It’s a special place.”
That feeling of belonging is a large part of the appeal. The club offers a real sense of community. “It’s the idea of that third place,” says Goering. “You have your home, and your workplace, and then you have the club.” And, she added, with everything happening right now, including planning for major renovations, focusing on technology, and experiencing unprecedented growth, it’s an exciting time to be part of the Rideau Club.