Leveling the Gender Quotient

CEO, The Female Quotient and Founder, The Girls’ Lounge, Shelley Zalis talks exclusively to ANANKE’s Executive Editor Sabin Muzaffar about gender inequality in the corporate world, unconscious biases and the groundbreaking awareness campaign Feminism’.

The Girls’ Lounge is a revolutionary US-based entity that offers support and mentoring to professional women, enabling them to find their voice and embrace their ‘feminine leadership powers’. Headed by the visionary Shelley Zalis, the Lounge advocates gender balance in the corporate world thereby effecting ‘real change for real women.’

Tell us about yourself and your journey that seeks to empower women.

At an early age, my mother instilled a strong sense of self-worth and confidence and it set me on a life path that has enabled me to see challenges as opportunities and always strive to be my best. It’s a point of view that I now carry with me to The Girls’ Lounge as we unite, inspire and connect corporate women to create meaningful change in the workplace.

The Girl’s Lounge is such a transformative platform, can you tell us more about it?

I set out to create a safe haven for women at industry trade shows, a place where women would feel included at traditionally male dominated shows. Three years later, we continue to connect and support women and engage them in vital conversation about the benefits of gender balancing for the growth and advancement of companies. Over the last few years, we have transformed from moments at trade shows to a movement that is inspiring women to work with us to enact lasting change in the workplace around the world.

What does leadership mean to you?

The best leaders have vision, passion, openness, decisiveness, and are superb team builders. Yet, I think character is the most important trait of a leader because great self-awareness of your personality and how it translates into leadership is essential. This is where I think women excel because several of these qualities are innate to us, they are female characteristics and once embraced they enable us to be incredible, passionate and nurturing leaders.

Sustainability is only possible through diversity and inclusion, how do we translate this into reality particularly in the corporate sector?

I would actually invite you to say growth is only possible when men and women appreciate their differences and work together to build stronger companies. Our ‘Femenism’ campaign speaks to the need for women and men to work together to create the change we want to see in the workplace. It is the collaboration of the different skill sets that creates a competitive advantage and delivers better products, unified teams, stronger client services, greater corporate growth and higher share prices.

What in your opinion are the main challenges professional women face at the workplace especially in leadership roles?

I believe unconscious bias is the number one challenge that women face in leadership roles. Society preconditions us from a young age to look at women and men differently; their roles within families, cultures and even corporations. We’ve all heard the stories of the workplace challenges women face, from proving themselves before being accepted to the steeper climb to leadership in business. Evolving individuals, teams and companies beyond unconscious bias has to be a top down initiative and a business imperative for companies.

How important is policy-making as far as equal opportunity, gender equality and bridging the pay gap is concerned?

I believe it is very important. Within a corporation it is vital that a CEO not only support the concept of gender-balancing a company but they need to participate. Drive the initiatives forward and implementing policies is vital to overall growth and success and the future of business. Governmental support is also essential as we witnessed last week, President Obama, announced his rules for closing the gender pay gap on the seventh anniversary of his signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which also works to close the gender pay gap. This announcement increases awareness and visibility for longstanding issues, and openly supports individual companies and industries working to evolve and eradicate imbalances.

How has the Girls’ Lounge enabled and empowered women?

Our biggest strength is what we create together. I always say it isn’t my Lounge, it’s “our” Lounge and it’s so true. When all these amazing women come together magic happens. We collaborate about business, and we share and discuss the challenges we are all facing, but most importantly how to overcome them and build stronger businesses. Our collaborations develop powerful initiatives that work to evolve the landscape of corporations, so collectively we create the change we all want to see.

What is your vision for Girls Lounge? 

We have 10 Lounges and amazing awareness campaigns planned for 2016. Our Femenism campaign, as we join women and men together to create change. Our Legacy campaign that celebrates women who have made a profound effect on the rights of women throughout time, those driving change today and tomorrow’s future femenists. All our campaigns work to raise awareness for the business advantages of women and men working together to create greater success and stronger businesses – there isn’t a woman or a man who doesn’t understand this competitive advantage and want to champion it within their organization.


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