Interview with Shelley Zalis

By Kareen Mallet

Shelley Zalis is the Chief Executive, IPSOS OTX and founder of the IPSOS Girls Lounge. Her bio describes her as a Chief Troublemaker, innovation junkie, big idea thinker-upper and uber-connector, who chases smart technology, passionate people and solar eclipses.

Kareen Mallet: I recently attended one of your events. What you are doing with The Girls’ Lounge is very cool. Can you tell us about it?

Shelley Zalis: The Girls’ Lounge happened very organically—it’s a sanctuary, a safe haven, an authentic place for women to connect. We talk about energizing self, soul, and sisterhood in The Girls’ Lounge. It started as a slumber party at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2013. I had heard that there were very few women in technology. So, the Friday before the conference, I asked my four girlfriends to come to my room on Monday. When Monday came, word got out and fifty women showed up to my room. By day two, one hundred women were in my room sharing, laughing, hanging out, and learning. We walked the CES floor together and we did not feel like a minority- we were the majority. It was a very confidence building moment, and suddenly I had all these new girlfriends. The magic is that it’s not my Girls’ Lounge; it’s all of our Girls’ Lounge.

I figured if I could connect women in technology, what about women in media, women in marketing, women in advertising and women in market research? I created a destination at each respective industry’s annual conferences, booked presidential suites at the hotel where these conferences were being held, and called it The Girls’ Lounge because that’s what it was.

I talk about being a girls’ girl–someone who supports their girlfriends, encourages them and helps them be the best that they can be. The Girls’ Lounge name stuck. I always say: ‘When a girl first comes to The Girls’ Lounge, they walk in as women in business and leave as girls’ girls.’

After going to three or four Girls’ Lounges, women leave with relationships and begin to build a sisterhood: men do deals and girls create relationships. It’s about girls connecting with girls- and oh, by the way, they all work for major companies- but that’s a bonus. I don’t want women to make friends with other women because of what company they work for, I want women to make girlfriends and build genuine relationships because we all learn from each other. It’s about pairing and sharing your expertise, and that will make us all better.

The Girls’ Lounge has gotten sticky because it’s our Girls’ Lounge. We talk about energizing self, soul and sisterhood. For self, we have hair, makeup and nails in The Girls’ Lounge to help women discover their confidence. We also have life coaches that help women discover what makes them special, headshot services, and a confidence closet to help women dress to feel confident. We want women to be the best that they can be. For soul, we always have a health and wellness component in The Girls’ Lounge. Sometimes we have pilates or yoga and sometimes we do SoulCycle classes together. For sisterhood, it’s about networking, building relationships and women inspiring each other in The Girls’ Lounge.

Women are leaving The Girls’ Lounge with confidence, new girlfriends, a smile, feeling so good about themselves and feeling great about being in an industry with a ton of people (but mainly women) that are amazing. They are discovering how powerful these relationships are for the self, soul and sisterhood and it’s really creating a corporate sorority.

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KM: What do you think are some issues for women in the workplace? And how do you move the issues from being just a conversation to activation?

SZ: I think some of the greatest challenges for women in the workplace are that we need to be perfect and we feel like we have to do it all. We talk a lot about work-life balance, but I think it’s really about work life styling. We have one life and there are a lot of dimensions in it. Work is a dimension of life, family is a dimension of life, health and wellness is a dimension of life, financial planning is a dimension of life, friends are a dimension of life, partners are a dimension of life, doing good is a dimension of life, hobbies are a dimension of life and passions are a dimension of life. Some women have all of these dimensions that they have to deal with and some have fewer, but at the end of the day, we have to balance and style our own life and customize it: there are no set rules. Pre-plan your week. What personal events do you have this week that you must attend? Pre-think this and then think about all of your work obligations. Are you traveling more this week than usual? Balance your week, every week, or everyday- whatever that requires. But don’t think there is one way or the highway. It’s not black or white – these elements might all be constant dimensions in your life, but how much time you allocate to each one of them might fluctuate everyday or every week, depending on your priorities. Plan forward and adjust daily.

We also need to redefine perfection. None of us are perfect and perfection is really boring. We can’t be perfect at everything, so choose the things that you want to be perfect at and be better than perfect. There are a lot of elements to perfection beyond the word perfect; compassion, care, passion and enjoying what you do. So we should prioritize. Pick the things that you want to do well and don’t think you need to do everything well. Let other people do some things well too!

Finally, I don’t think it’s a woman issue. The more dimensions you have in your life, the more challenging it becomes to do it all, for both women and men.

KM: You said “We’re moving from a push to a pull world, where we used to push content to the consumer, and now we’re moving to a pull world where consumers are pulling what they want when they want it.” Is there a magic formula to create engagement? And how can we be more effective as marketers?

SZ: In a push world, we live in a linear world where we push media to the consumer. Marketers used to look at television, radio, print and, of course, there was a miscellaneous line item called “digital.” We used to push messages to consumers. Now, we are living in the world where consumers are on 24/7. Consumers have information instantly available and accessible, when they want it, anywhere and everywhere, and they are pulling the messages that matter to them. They are sharing these messages not only with their best friend, but with their million best friends. If marketers are not creating the content, products or messages that consumers want, consumers will create their own messages, causing them to become their own brand marketers. That is wonderful and scary at the same time! Marketers have to understand who and what their consumers want or they will enter into Digital Darwinism. Their consumers and technology will be ahead of them and their messages will become obsolete and irrelevant.

KM: You said, “I wasn’t afraid to take risks, but it required being brave and different.” As an entrepreneur and leader, how do you personally push yourself?

SZ: I’m curious and I’m not afraid of asking myself the hardest questions. I’m afraid of the answers, but I also break them into bite size pieces so I can actually move forward. Tony Robbins taught me something that I will never forget: if you make every problem one big problem, you will never solve it. You have to break the problem into bite size pieces. Trying something new is scary, but it’s also exhilarating because I’m trying something that I have never done before. I think you have to be willing to fail to succeed. Make mistakes. I share my mistakes and my successes and I’m really proud of myself when I succeed. I don’t take no for an answer because there is always a solution, you just have to find it. A girl after our own heart.

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