The Time for Feminine Leadership is Now with Shelley Zalis

Interview by
Diane Danvers Simmons
Natalie Simmons
Published on
May 18, 2020

In this episode...

As COVID-19 slogs on and international response diverges, we have invariably seen female-led countries lead the way in their proactive and compassionate response to the pandemic. With a pulse on the advancement and equity of women in the workplace and across the globe, Shelley Zalis, CEO & Founder of The Female Quotient, offers her perspective on feminine versus masculine leadership. Join Diane, Natalie & Shelley in The Time for Feminine Leadership is Now to learn about Shelley’s journey to becoming “Chief Troublemaker”, the family and values that molded her and insight into the future of feminine leadership. Psssst - the time is now!


Shelley Zalis

Shelley Zalis is an internationally-renowned leader advancing equality in the workplace. Having elevated feminine strengths in the workplace as the first female chief executive in the research industry, today, as CEO of The Female Quotient, Zalis is advancing gender equality across industries.


2:00 - Diane & Natalie introduce this episode’s guest, Shelley Zalis, and share her bio as a pioneer for online research and a champion of gender equality. Shelley is Founder and CEO of The Female Quotient (Find links to The Female Quotient at the bottom of the page.)

2:45 - Diane shares a taste of what’s to come in this episode including, Shelley’s early influencers, the importance of the values our parents instill, the power of intuition and how she has transformed “a moment and into a movement.”

5:00 - Shelley reminisces on her upbringing and how it shaped and strengthened her for the world. She shares funny stories from growing up in a house of four girls.

6:30 - Shelley continues to give us examples of the things her parents did to instill the value of living and sharing a fulfilled life and the legacy her father left behind. 

7:00 - Shelly quotes a Hebrew expression -“She who is wealthy is one who’s happy with what she has.” in reference to how her parents never placed value on things but rather experiences.

8:45 - Shelley talks about her mother and the lessons she instilled of confidence, consistency and self belief. Diane references MDU blog post about the influence of our mothers in our lives. (1)

9:30 - Asserting that we either do something or we don’t, we must avoid the middle zone of “I don’t know,” Shelley shares her hiring motto: “I hire for passion, I train for skill. I look for passionate people who embrace life, are go-getters, who look for the ‘yes’ and not for the ‘no’.”

10:00 Shelley expresses her gratitude for her mom’s tenacity for life whether she was making a dollar stretch for her family, getting involved in the community or organizing a conference for 5,000 women in LA once her girls had flown the coop. She recognizes how much she is her mother’s daughter. 

13:00 - The ladies discuss the power of feminine leadership qualities in times of crisis. Citing Forbes & The Harvard Business Review articles. Shelley asserts that feminine strengthens including “nurturing, empathetic, compassionate, resilient, innovative, community-building, people-oriented, vision setting, resourceful, multitasking on steroids—are the soft and invisible powers that haven’t been recognized or celebrated. But those are the powers of the best leaders of today.” (2/3)

15:15 - Shelley states that, “women might take a little bit longer in making a decision, not because we’re hesitant or shy, but because we think about five steps forward, and think about the whole ecosystem, because we know that one thing impacts the next.”

16.00 - Natalie shares her perspective on the rise of feminine leadership qualities stating “I’m so excited to see this shift in the way that we think and talk about the difference between feminine and masculine qualities and encouraging women to embrace the qualities that women uniquely bring to the table that are super powerful leadership tools—instead of ‘leaning in’ to masculine qualities and be more like men.”

17:45 - Shelley recounts her career path starting in market research and the pioneering role she played in bringing it online. She describes some of the adversity she faced and the decisions she made to consciously counteract the patriarchal systems in place.  

18:45 - Shelley mentions her Forbes column, The Messy Middle which talks about women’s challenges in the workplace and how she wanted to change the patriarchal systems that have historically governed our workplaces. (4)

22.00 - The group comes back to the age old saying - “if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.” 

26:00 - Shelley talks about how she took a moment and turned it into a movement when she attended the CES Conference in Las Vegas with a group of female friends and acquaintances; she states: “A woman alone has power, collectively we have impact.”

27:00 - In a serendipitous moment, Shelley’s mother walks into the podcast and shares her love and pride in her daughter, gushing that she is her greatest accomplishment.

30:00 - Shelley describes The Female Quotient’s Girls Lounge and how it all began as the counter movement to the “boys club.” 

31:30 - Shelley walks through the pillars of The Female Quotient including: experiential pop-up events, C-Suite consulting, a jewelry line and, now, FQ Digital - available to women everywhere to interact and support one another. 

35:00 - As the ladies wrap up, Diane asks Shelley to share her message of hope and what she sees moving forward in the COVID-19 era and beyond. Shelley reflects that even as we are physically distancing she feels we have become even more connected in this time. Additionally, she references the power of collaboration stating, “it’s the magic of the mix” women supporting women is our secret sauce.

38:00 - To close, Shelley empowers listeners and women everywhere with final words of inspiration: “together we  can create a better ‘normal’ if we put our hearts, our minds, our resources, our resilience, our boldness, our bravery, our people orientation, our vision-setting, our compassion, our empathy, our trust, our innovation, our creativity all into play, who’s gonna stop us?” Let’s go, ladies!

38:30 - Natalie introduces another installment of the COVID-19 MDU Dispatch featuring women around the world about their experiences of the pandemic. This episode details the funny experiences of DC-resident, Rebecca, a single 27-year-old, dipping her toes into the dating world during shelter-in-place orders.

  1. Simmons, Diane. "The Mothers of Influencers... Moms", Mothers & Daughters Unfiltered, 4/10/2020
  2. Anderson, Cami. "Why Do Women Make Such Good Leaders During COVID-19?" Forbes. 4/19/2020
  3. Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas & Gallop, Cindy. "7 Leadership Lessons Men Can Learn from Women" Harvard Business Review. 4/1/2020
  4. Zalis, Shelley. "How To Succeed In The Messy Middle: Managing Up, Down and Across". Forbes, 4/28/2017

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