Closing the Gender Gap With Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient

How to successfully innovate and take matters into your own hands

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Among the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, one is actionable for every leader: gender equality. The existing disparities between men and women in the workplace come from a legacy mindset gap, and leaders can proactively strive to narrow this divide.

To gain insights on how to undertake this crucial initiative, we spoke to Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient.

At The Female Quotient, Zalis collaborates with organizations to curate experiences, thought leadership and solutions aimed at fostering gender equality in the workplace. She is also the founder of OTX, a research company that was later acquired by Ipsos OTX. In recognition of her achievements, she was honored with the Matrix Award by the New York Women in Communications in 2018.

Listen to Zalis on the latest episode of The Speed of Culture podcast and find out more about being a female pioneer and closing the gender gap in the workplace.

Key takeaways:

  • 04:18 – 07:45 How to successfully innovate — Zalis encountered plenty of skepticism when she founded OTX in 2000. As a trailblazer in the field, she assumed all the roles in the innovation journey: the innovator, who makes mistakes while creating something new; the copycat, who imitates the innovator without understanding the inner workings; and the sweeper, who refines and builds upon an existing ecosystem. To embody all three roles, Zalis continually disrupted herself, emerging as a true pioneer in online research.
  • 09:34 – 17:34 Taking matters into your own hands — Before launching OTX, Zalis worked at a traditional research company. She went to her boss with the idea of migrating research from offline to online, and they all told her it was the wrong time. Simultaneously, Zalis found herself on a panel with Larry Mock, who was then the chief research officer at Procter & Gamble. Seizing the opportunity, she arranged a meeting to discuss her concept with him. However, when she informed her boss about this, he opted to send three male colleagues in her place, citing it as a “boys’ club” affair. Recognizing that her vision would only materialize if she was in charge, Zalis took her idea to Nielsen, embarking on the path that eventually led to the establishment of OTX.
  • 17:58 – 20:33 Hire for passion, train for skill — Zalis’ journey required conviction and perseverance, two crucial qualities for a successful entrepreneur. She used her passion to build resilience for her cause and ultimately created a legacy for online research. As a leader, she has sought out others who share her passion and helped them gain the skills they needed to perform at a high level.
  • 20:38 – 29:14 Creating a “Girls Lounge” — After years in a male-dominated industry, Zalis realized it was time to create a network of women supporting women, something she wished she had during her career. To kick it off, she went to CES and invited 50 women to walk the floor with her, which eventually became The Girls Lounge, the female version of the boys’ club that had been ever-present in her career. She started doing pop-ups for women in various industries to connect and collaborate and avoid feelings of isolation at male-dominated conferences. Initially, she sponsored these herself. Now, The Female Quotient is global, working toward closing the gender gap.
  • 29:50 – 32:44 Be intentional about gender equality — The Female Quotient is actively advancing gender equality in the workplace, spurred by Zalis’ own experiences. She explains that leaders need to be intentional about their actions to push for gender equality. They have the data to fix where they are going wrong and reverse the legacy issues contributing to gender inequality at work.