CEO, The Female Quotient
Shelley Zalis, known as the “chief troublemaker,” is a pioneer for online research, movement leader, and champion of gender equality. She is an internationally renowned entrepreneur, speaker, mentor, mother, and founder and CEO of The Female Quotient.
Zalis rewrites the rules and innovates solutions to impact real change. In 2000, she left the corporate world to found OTX (Online Testing Exchange), which became one of the fastest growing research companies in the world. She sold OTX to Ipsos in 2010, and then led global innovation in more than 80 countries at Ipsos OTX.
Today, as CEO of The Female Quotient, Zalis works with Fortune 500 companies to advance gender equality across industries. The FQ’s signature pop-up experience, the FQ Lounge (formerly the Girls’ Lounge), brings a Home of Equality to major conferences, companies, and college campuses around the world. The FQ Lounge is the gathering place for leaders of all levels at events such as the World Economic Forum, Cannes Lions, Consumer Electronics Show and the Milken Institute Global Conference. Through the destination-turned-movement, Zalis has connected more than 18,000 women in business and created the largest female-led community to transform workplace culture.
Zalis is an acclaimed speaker and member of the Washington Speakers Bureau. She is also a dynamic moderator who has interviewed influencers and leaders such as Katie Couric, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Arianna Huffington, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon, and David Schwimmer. Zalis authors a Forbes column that provides advice for women in the messy middle (middle management). She is the co-founder of #SeeHer, a movement led by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) to increase the accurate portrayal of women and girls in advertising and media. Zalis is also on the Board of Directors for MAKERS, ColorComm and Dress for Success.
A firm believer in giving back with generosity, Zalis is not only a mentor to women around the world, but also provides time and resources to educating girls in countries such as Rwanda. She has been awarded the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Global Marketing Leadership Award, ARF Great Minds in Innovation Award, AWNY’s Game Changer Award, and the Matrix Award.
You can follow Zalis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.
What is it about FinTech that excites you?
The gender gap in financial inclusion is pervasive; just look at the World Bank’s findings that globally, most adults without bank accounts are women. FinTech has the potential to change that and create a more equitable world — and what could be more exciting than that?! I’m reminded of this every time FinTech leaders like Sallie Krawcheck, the founder and CEO of Ellevest, speak in our FQ Lounges. Ellevest is closing the gender investing gap through a really robust robo-investing platform designed specifically for women. FinTech companies like this are making a real, tangible difference in women’s lives.
What do you envisage being the biggest development in FinTech in the next 5 years?
My hope is that we continue to work on leveling the playing field for women in the space. It is imperative that we start moving beyond conversations and active real solutions for change. If we accomplish this, FinTech as a whole will be able to evolve like never before.
Diversity produces innovation. Innovation requires bold and out-of-the box ideas. How are we going to get there when everyone in a board room thinks the same?
What do you enjoy doing in your time away from work?
Spending time with my loved ones. I also love what I do, and live by a strict work/life integration policy. I block off my days to make sure I am prioritizing what is important to me in that moment. I have work, family, friends, community to think about, and myself!
What is the biggest change that you have witnessed in the sector over the past 12 months?
The biggest change that I have seen in the space over the last year is the rise of inclusivity in tech and the amount of women who are developing these world-changing ideas. That said, there still is a lot of progress to be made! Despite the fact that female founders receive a fraction of VC funding, they’re statistically a better investment: according to a study by KPMG, female-founded FinTech firms significantly outperform the industry average. Companies and VC firms are finally taking note of this — and committing to support women in the wider financial services field. I was hugely heartened by the Women in Finance Charter, a pledge — signed by the UK’s major institutions — for gender balance across financial services. This is just one step in the right direction.
Who would be your top 3 dinner party guests and why?
My mom, for confidence. Warren Buffett, to strategize how to close the wage gap. Malala Yousafzai, to share how to inspire a movement with action. And if I’m allowed a fourth — Princess Diana, someone I always looked up to.