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A self-proclaimed “chief troublemaker who is always breaking the rules,” Shelley Zalis is one inspirational Fairygodboss. After a remarkable career in the corporate world and as a pioneer in online research, she embarked on her most recent endeavor -- launching The Female Quotient and The Girls’ Lounge, which encourage women to find their voice and build leadership skills. Shelley’s #1 career tip? “Own your strength. Give yourself permission to rewrite the rules.”

Fairygodboss of the Week: Shelley Zalis

CEO and Founder, The Female Quotient (TFQ) and The Girls’ Lounge

Los Angeles, CA

FGB: Tell us about your career. How did you get to where you are now?

SZ:  I’ve gone against the grain most of my career. In 2000, I left the corporate world to pioneer online research and create OTX (Online Testing Exchange), which became one of the largest and fastest growing research companies in the world in just nine years. I sold OTX to Ipsos in 2010, where I led the global innovation in over 80 countries. 

My most recent endeavor includes launching The Female Quotient and The Girls’ Lounge, which support and mentor women to find their voice, embrace their feminine leadership powers and work together to transform corporate culture for this and future generations of women. In addition, I’m the host of a new Bloomberg series titled “Walk The Talk,” focused on gender equality and the critical importance of women in executive leadership.

It is in my DNA to innovate and create meaningful change for girls and women around the world. I am a strategic partner of the ANA’s AFE #SeeHer initiative and a board member of AWNY, I Am That Girl, Dress for Success, The Women Economic Forum, ColorComm, The Foundation for Exxcellence in Women’s Health and the Women’s Military Symposium.

FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?

SZ: As the first female chief executive in the research industry’s top 25, I always wondered why the “rules” for the workplace were written by men for men. They were written at a time when the workplace was comprised mainly of men and make so sense for today’s workplace. 

As a chief troublemaker who is always breaking the rules, my mission has been to reimagine the culture in corporations. Let’s bring emotion, femininity, compassion and care to the boardroom. 

Through The Girls’ Lounge community of 15,000 women who support one another, we are bringing the power of the collective into companies and holding customized conversations around gender equality. I am so proud that, under the TFQ umbrella, we are activating solutions for change and for the advancement of equality in corporations. 

FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?

SZ: In my journey to get where we are today with The Female Quotient, I had to find my voice. I learned not to conform to the rules that made no sense. I had to be who I am. For me, being a girl is a mindset. You need to be brave, fearless and supportive of one another. Collaboration is better than competition any day! When purpose meets passion, we are unstoppable. There’s power in the pack. It’s our responsibility to take the next step and make change happen.

FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?

SZ: Linda Yaccarino, Chairman, Advertising Sales and Client Partnerships, NBCUniversal. Linda is a true girls’ girl and an enormous inspiration to me. I admire her purpose and passion and how she always gives back with generosity.

All of the women on our board are making a difference, advancing equality in the workplace and giving back with generosity.

Lightning Round:

FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?

SZ: Family always comes first. Coffee with my girlfriends is a bonus. SoulCycle is my meditation. And a bubble bath with a glass of Cabernet and mindless TV is my welcome relief!

FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?

SZ:  Princess Diana – she was a royal disrupter for change.

FGB: What is your karaoke song?

SZ: Unstoppable by Sia.

FGB: What is your favorite movie?

SZ: Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?

SZ: Archie Comic Books.

FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?

SZ: Shoes and handbags are my shopping vice. If I won the lottery, I would buy an education for all girls everywhere.

FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you? 

SZ: Own your strength. Give yourself permission to rewrite the rules. Collaborate with other women to create a corporate environment in which women are encouraged to bring their unique visions and relationship-building skills to the boardroom. Believe in the power of the pack. Collectively, we can create a better legacy for women in the workplace. 

FGB: Why do you love where you work?

SZ: I love what we’re doing in The Female Quotient and The Girls’ Lounge. When you don’t like when you do, it’s called stress; when you love what you do, it’s called passion. When passion meets purpose you’re unstoppable. 

Fairygodboss

Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women. So each week, we celebrate a woman who makes a difference in other women’s careers. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate and thank her by nominating her here.

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