The Female Quotient's Shelley Zalis Activates Diversity Via the "Power of the Pack"

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While she was a pioneer of online research, Shelley Zalis is best known today as a champion of gender equality in the workplace and the world. The visionary chief executive officer of The Female Quotient (The FQ), Zalis works with Fortune 500 companies, colleges, and conferences to connect leaders with women to advance gender equality. She is a co-founder of #SeeHer with the Association of National Advertisers and is on the Board of MAKERS, ColorComm, SheRunsIt, and Dress for Success.

When MediaVillage hosts its third Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors on January 8 at CES, Zalis will be among those being inducted. Leading up to that event, each of our 2020 inductees has shared their strategies for accelerating the move from advocacy to activism. In this podcast episode, Zalis speaks with E.B. Moss, head of content strategy for MediaVillage, about her many accomplishments creating real change around gender equality. Zalis also explains why men are essential partners for gender equality, why she believes the language of diversityneeds to evolve, and how to create a culture of inclusion.

The following is an abridged version of their in-depth conversation. Listen here to the full interview and please subscribe and share all the Advancing Diversity Podcasts available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and YouTube.

E.B. Moss: You've coined a few phrases since you started The Female Quotient. Things like,"power of the pack" … "confidence is beautiful" and "use your voice." Those sayings remind me of what we're aiming for with the Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors and why you're an inductee. You've moved people fromadvocacy to activism, which is what we're all about.

Shelley Zalis: I always say a woman alone has power; collectively we have impact. I think about the power of my pack of 18,000 girlfriends every time I'm in the Female Quotient Lounge.

Madeleine Albright says it brilliantly: "Women that don't support other women deserve a place in hell." We say that women who support other women deserve a place in heaven. We have created the largest community of women, but also the largest community of activists who are conscious leaders.

Moss: Please explain the root and evolution of your "Lounge."

Zalis: I started the Girls Lounge to take on the Boys Club. In 2013, I wanted to go to the Consumer Electronics Show after I heard there would be 150,000 attendees, with less than 3 percent women. The thought was quite intimidating so, I invited four girlfriends to walk the floor with me and asked them to invite other women... We were 50 strong on the first day. Every guys' head turned as they wondered where all these women came from. At the end of the conference, we congregated in a suite to share experiences...and, the Girls' Lounge was born. I'm proud that The FQ Lounge, which [evolved from] the Girls' Lounge, was recently named the Official Equality Partner for CES 2020, a proclamation of progress.

When #MeToo and Time's Up started doing so much for women, I realized that the only way change [can] happen in the workplace is [through] leadership [which is] predominantly men. So, I evolved the Girls' Lounge into The FQ Lounge, the home of equality — where we all belong — and made it a leadership conversation. Afterall, if women just talk among ourselves, we will not rewrite the rules of the workplace. We started collaborating with men in a unified fashion. There's nothing more powerful than unplugged conversations — discussing the good, the bad, and the ugly ... and not just blindly following rules that never made sense in the first place.

Today, we host 60+ Lounges a year at conferences (including Davos, Cannes, and Advertising Week) ...along with pop-ups on university campuses in 120 countries.

The Female Quotient emerged as an umbrella company to advance women and equality through the FQ Lounges, custom boot camps, accountability metrics and updated rules of engagement.

Moss: And, you conduct eye-opening sessions with Fortune 500 companies...

Zalis: Yes. We help Fortune 500 leaders see how gender equality delivers to the bottom line. We have 50 of the biggest companies as partners…. A company alone is power; collectively we deliver impact.

Moss: There's been a lot of inspiration around climate change sparked by a 16-year-old, Greta Thunberg. Do you see a change in receptivity to the messages of women, young or old?

Zalis: Leadership is at every level. If you believe and act as a leader, you are a leader. We're all leaders regardless of age.

We do a lot of work with Parkland students [who] talk about how real their voices are because they'd been there, done that, they've experienced it. They are social activists and they each can make a difference.

Look at how Greta moved the world...

Moss: You've said you don't necessarily like the word "diversity" because you feel it separates people and that you prefer to talk about proximity.

Zalis: It's time to create new words. I want to create a new lexicon because sometimes words such as diversity carry negative connotations; there are preconceptions of what that word stands for.

Proximity is another important word because we hire people who act like us. Get near people who you normally would not be near. When you are in someone else's shoes, you will learn a lot about them. I want to start playing with this whole new idea of proximity.

Moss: When you were at Cannes, you said that you want us all to create a culture of belonging. What action steps that you recommend?

Zalis: We need to purposefully create a culture of inclusivity. Cultural belonging emits a sense that you can just be. ... and, bring your best self to the table. Companies need to realize the power of collaboration over competition...

We need to get comfortable [with] being uncomfortable, and then, the more we do it, uncomfortable will become the new comfortable.

We need to be bold, daring and push the envelope.

We need to be conscious of our unconscious.

We need to put diversity expectations in our RFPs. And we need to develop equality KPIs for business performance.

Moss: So, I want to take it from the business level, the hacks, and I want to ask you how you hacked your life? How did you get so inspired?

Zalis: First, I'm one of four girls and my parents raised us to be best friends and supportive, not jealous of one another; they are my sisters by birth, but also my chosen sisters. There's nothing more important than a shared sisterhood.

And then, one day, I looked in the mirror and realized that "I am my mother's daughter." She started the first conference for women for [California Governor] Pete Wilson. She brought 5,000 businesswomen together. It was quite remarkable. She did that for a few years and Maria Shriver took it over. That was an inspiration.

Also, I look back to when I was the only female CEO in the top 25 in business. I knew I thought differently, [and was different] when I found comfortable shoes that were not ugly flat man shoes. I realized that I wanted to wear high heels ... and, did.

Moss: As you were getting started with this what was the biggest obstacle?

Zalis: I don't see obstacles; I see opportunities…. Once we got past expectations of what we're supposed to be and realized that we can be anything we choose, the floodgates opened. We stepped into our power with unapologetic acceptance.

Moss: Now, so much has been accomplished since walked the halls of CES with the pack of women. So last question, what more can you do?

Zalis: Ratify the ERA, close the wage gap, and get more women. Create an accurate and realistic portrayal of girls and women in media and entertainment through #SeeHer. The Female Quotient is all about putting more women in any equation and every equation so that we see a return on equality.

Weaving diversity and inclusion into the fabric of your company is good for business. And we have proof. In this podcast series, our Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors 2020 inductees each discuss the many ways their organizations champion diversity, equality, and inclusion, as well as examine the benefits to their company, constituents, and community. Each episode features one inductee's strategies and best practices that others can adapt to help their organizations accelerate the move from advocacy to activism.

The 2020 Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors inductees include Jill Baskin, chief marketing officer, The Hershey Company; J. Michael Haynie, Ph.D., vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation, Institute for Veteran and Military Families; Tim Jones, chief executive officer, Publicis Media, Americas; Tim McNeal, talent development, Walt Disney Television; Sue Obeidi, director, Muslim Public Affairs Council, The Hollywood Bureau; Tony Rogers, chief member officer, Sam's Club; Tiffany R. Warren, founder and president, ADCOLOR, and senior vice president, chief diversity officer, Omnicom; and Shelley Zalis, chief executive officer, The Female Quotient.

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