Playing by the rules will only get you so far in life.
Shelley Zalis didn’t play by the rules, because there wasn’t a rulebook for women in her position. Zalis made waves as the first female CEO ranked in the market research industry’s top 25, and sold her business, Open Testing Exchange, to research titan Ipsos for $80 million in 2010. “I always say the rules in the workplace were written over 100 years ago by men for men because women just weren't in the workplace,” she says.
Zalis is aiming to change that with her current company, The Female Quotient, which hosts FQ Lounges across the globe at events such as SXSW, Davos and the Cannes Film Festival, where women can put their feet up, talk business, and activate change. The Female Quotient’s mission statement is synonymous with Zalis’s personal mission of helping advance equality in the workplace. To do that, Zalis says men need to be part of the solution.
“I think there’s still old-guard leadership, I think there’s still a boys’ club. We need men to step up to the plate and support women,” Zalis says. She suggests men do this by taking the time in meetings to point out the voices of women who are being interrupted or not being heard, or by offering their keynote speaker spot at a conference to a woman when the opportunity arises.
Zalis says profitability is the clear incentive for men to take action. According to a McKinsey study, if the gender wage gap is eliminated, $28 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025. Zalis says that closing the gap should be a business imperative for every company’s bottom line. “If we understand that diversity is good for business, then what are we waiting for?”
The Female Quotient tagline of “grace and grit” is a symbol for feminine traits being brought into workplace culturey. Zalis is a long standing advocate of bringing emotion into the boardroom. The Female Quotient participated in a study with Deloitte which found that employees increasingly expect a new kind of leader, dubbed the “Human CEO,” possessing both hard and soft power traits.
When Zalis recently asked a few male CEOs what the greatest characteristics of a CEO are today, “the top two qualities they talked about were empathy and compassion,” she says. “I’d love to see a job description looking for a CEO with empathy, compassion, and great at delivering the bottom line,” she says.
Zalis points to progress being made. Companies like AT&T, PwC, and Home Depot are encouraging men to bring their nurturing side to the table by offering paid paternity leave, which in Zalis’s mind is a refreshing way they can ensure “that their employees all have heart,” and a way they can level the playing field for women taking time off to have children.
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