SHELLEY ZALIS has had an eclectic career trajectory, to say the least. She began in the corporate world and transitioned to the tech world, where she created Online Testing Exchange (OTX) — one of the fastest growing market research companies in the world. After nine years of enormous success acting as the company’s CEO, she sold OTX and turned to mentoring women. Zalis took her leadership skills and entrepreneurial spirit to create two organizations to do just that: The Girls’ Lounge and The Female Quotient. Zalis spoke with Lady Clever about the importance of embracing weaknesses, the necessity of a good mentor, and why keeping emotions out of the boardroom might not be all it’s cracked up to be.
What inspired you to leave the cushy corporate world to branch out on your own and create OTX?
I came up with an idea to migrate research from a central location and telephone to the Internet in a day and age where no one was online except for wealthy old men over the age of 55 with broadband connections. Hardly a representative population for research! When I suggested this idea, the executive board at the company I was working for (all men) told me it was too premature and online research was something they were not interested in focusing on. I remember going home that night and thinking to myself, “Why are they always right? And I’m not?” and “Why can’t I move in a direction that I believe is right?” The next day, I went in and resigned. I realized that my calling was to build my own research company and create my own rules! I knew that if I didn’t move forward with this idea, someone else would.
In your bio, you say that you’ve “brought emotion to the boardroom.” What do you mean by that? How have you taken the stigma away from expressing emotion in the boardroom?
I’ve been told that there is no room for emotion in the boardroom. But why not?! Emotion is passion; it’s caring. It’s about putting people first. It’s a humanizing element. It’s what differentiates the masculine and feminine archetypes of leadership. So how was I going to lead? I had two choices — agree and conform to the legacy style of masculinity or be myself and bring femininity to the table. I bet you know what path I chose! It’s important to own your strengths AND embrace your weaknesses. Admit to yourself that you don’t know everything, you are not perfect, and some things might just scare the heck out of you — but that’s OK! That is why you have a team to complement your strengths.
What compelled you to become a mentor to other women and start The Girls’ Lounge and The Female Quotient?
I was the only female CEO on the top-25 list of market research companies most of my career. I had amazing role models in business, but not in how to “do it all,” juggling work and family. What was the secret to success? I had to break a lot of rules to have a successful career and happy family. I always say that you have one life with many dimensions. Work, family, friends, community… and don’t forget about you. At different stages of your life, you might have to pick and choose what you can do, and how much time you can commit to each.
I created The Girls’ Lounge because I thought it would be great to create a space at industry conferences for women to connect, collaborate, and activate change together. A woman alone can have power, but together we have impact. Over the years, it has been my experience that the best secret to success in business is having girlfriends who support each other and who energize the confidence to thrive! We can do it all — together!
Tell us about The Girls’ Lounge and The Female Quotient.
The Female Quotient is a business that is committed to advancing equality in the workplace. First came The Intelligence Quotient (IQ), then came The Emotional Quotient (EG), and now we have The Female Quotient (FQ). The Female Quotient works with corporations to positively impact their culture, profitability and overall business success. FQ focuses on four main tenets that are fundamental to making meaningful progress and creating accountability around equality within corporations: close the wage gap, increase the visibility of women within corporations, develop programs that support caring cultures, and create new tools to eliminate unconscious bias and eliminate barriers to achieving equality.
The Girls’ Lounge, which is a product in The Female Quotient portfolio, is a community of corporate women working together to activate the changes we want to see in workplaces today. As these women connect, collaborate and activate change, The Girls’ Lounge supports and encourages them to bring their femininity and feminine archetypes to the workplace.
I love The Female Quotient’s mission to improve businesses’ Return on Equality! How do you work with businesses to help them become more gender balanced?
We have uncovered the root causes of stereotypes and cultural norms, and are addressing the issues holistically in our development of a toolkit and corporate workshops with next-step actions for change. We work with businesses to conduct bootcamps within their organizations with their teams. A bootcamp is an immersive and innovative half or full-day session intended to educate and inspire the team on the value and necessity of gender equality.
The Girls’ Lounge has some pretty amazing Influencers. What specific or unique qualities does it take for someone to be a Girls’ Lounge Influencer?
- Personal passion
- Sharing your story
- Supporting one another by being a girls’ girl – women who inspire and support one another are changing the world
- Not conforming to the rules that make no sense for today’s women
- Owning your strengths
- Embracing your weaknesses
- Not allowing your title or position to define who you are
- Bringing femininity to the board room
- Allowing your female intuition to guide you
- Giving back with generosity
- Breaking the rules
What’s one of your favorite success stories?
It was seeing one of my girlfriends in a very senior level position as she walked the Croisette in Cannes to The Girls’ Lounge. Her success in business is directly correlated with her participation in The Girls’ Lounge. Our sense of community and our sisterhood for corporate America are influencing and moving women in ways they never imagined. A woman alone has power and together we have impact.
Shelley is the ultimate example of girl power and is succeeding and spreading it around.
For more information on The Girls’ Lounge and The Female Quotient, visit their website. Keep up with The Girls’ Lounge and The Female Quotient on Instagram and Twitter, and follow Shelley Zalis on Instagram and Twitter.
Images courtesy of Shelley Zalis