Q&A: Shelley Zalis, CEO at The Female Quotient, on CES’s Annual Equality Lounge

Tucked away on the 58th floor of the ARIA Resort & Casino’s Sky Suites in Las Vegas, The Female Quotient’s annual Equality Lounge brought together CES 2023 attendees and Fortune 500 executives for two days of sessions and networking. Serving as CES’s Official Equality Partner for the fourth year in a row, The Female Quotient is a woman-owned business working with companies and leaders to curate experiences, thought leadership and solutions designed to achieve gender equality in the workplace and beyond.

Open Jan. 5-6, the Equality Lounge at CES 2023 spanned two floors and featured ample seating, a stage for panel discussions, a Snapchat-branded photo booth, “Equality is a choice” decorative pillows and The Female Quotient decals with inspiring phrases on windows and mirrors. The second level offered a colorful candy bar for attendees to take away their own candy bag of gumballs, lollipops, chocolates and gummies, while reading the accompanying tabletop signage with statistics on the gender pay gap. Nearby, SXM Media hosted interview recordings with women executives for its Pass the Mic podcast in a dedicated studio, in partnership with The Female Quotient. (Read more about the partnership and podcast studio.)

Shelley Zalis, ceo of The Female Quotient and co-founder of SeeHer—a movement led by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) to increase the accurate portrayal of women and girls in advertising and media—sat down with us to discuss how the Equality Lounge has grown and evolved through the years and the partnerships that work toward its purpose of making everyone feel welcome and sparking change in the industry.

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Shelley Zalis Headshot - Credit The Female Quotient (2)

Shelley Zalis, ceo of The Female Quotient and co-founder of SeeHer

Event Marketer: What is The Female Quotient, and how did the Equality Lounge come about, particularly at CES?

Shelley Zalis: This is our 10th year at CES, and we really started at CES. I wanted to create safe spaces for women, and I was tired of being an only and lonely at these big industry conferences. When I came to CES, I heard there were 150,000 people and less than 3 percent were women. So I invited a few women to walk the floor with me and said, “If you know other women, invite them,” and 24 hours later, 50 women came to walk the floor. Two remarkable things happened. One, every single guy’s head turned when we walked the floor, and I coined the phrase “power of the pack.” A woman alone has power; collectively, we have impact. And the second was I was surrounded by women just like me, talking about work-life balance and impostor syndrome, and we also all had power of the purse—we all had money, we started doing deals with one another. And it was so invigorating for me, it was so refreshing, and it was confidence-building.


EM: So you saw an opportunity to create a space for women there. Talk about how you transformed the gathering into an event.

SZ: That’s when I created the Girls’ Lounge. The opposite of boy is girl; the opposite of club is lounge. If there’s a boys’ club, now there’s the Girls’ Lounge. And that’s how the Girls’ Lounge started. And next thing you knew, day one, day two, women started inviting other women. From 50, we went to 100. And day three, I had a penthouse suite, and 350 women gathered. Then I started creating Girls’ Lounges all over at big industry conferences, connecting women to one another and creating these safe spaces where women felt comfortable meeting one another. And next thing you knew I created 70 pop-up spaces at big industry conferences, connecting women in technology, women in marketing, women in media, women in advertising, and then we had lounges at Cannes Lions and at CES, and then we got invited to the World Economic Forum.

Once we connected over a million women in over 100 countries, it evolved from the Girls’ Lounge to the Equality Lounge, creating spaces for conscious leaders. It’s about conscious leadership. And all of our conversations are around closing the gender gap.

Female Quotient_Equality Lounge_CES2023_seating

Beyond The Female Quotient’s Equality Lounges, the organization offers content and services, all centered on closing the gender gap and inspiring conscious leadership.


EM: In addition to the Equality Lounges, what are some of the other areas of The Female Quotient’s business?

SZ: The Equality Lounge is just one piece of what we do. It’s all under The Female Quotient. The name came from: First came IQ, the intelligence quotient, then came EQ, the emotional quotient, now comes FQ, the female quotient. When you add women to any equation, there’s a return on equality. We do three things. One is FQ Experiences, which is our lounges. The second is FQ Media, content all around closing the gender gap. And the third is FQ Services, where we are launching a whole new concept called “the flipping point.” We are at a turning point, a very important moment in time. The World Economic Forum says it will take 132 years to close the gender gap. Why? We can close it in five. It just takes conscious leadership, so we’re working with Fortune 500 ceos to really take a conscious effort. The second is we’re building the largest female expert network, putting that in place. And the third is we’re building a certification program to close the talent gap. Those are the initiatives that we’re working on right now.


EM: How did you form the partnership with SXM Media to host a podcast studio in the Equality Lounge this year?

SZ: We have the largest global community of women in the workplace, and it’s amazing to have these physical lounges where we have conversations. The beauty of SXM and “Pass the Mic” is it’s about the audio and the viral nature of sharing that content. Having a studio in our lounge and collecting that information, I love being able to share the generational wisdom.


EM: What do you hope for the future of the Equality Lounge?

SZ: [On Jan. 5], we did a walking tour with over 350 women walking the floor. It was remarkable. Not only did we see great technology, but I love watching the faces when we walk the floor, starting with five women to 50 women to 350, and soon we’ll have 3,500 women. Hopefully, we have these spaces all over at every big conference around the world so that we’re continuing to create space for everyone to have these important conversations. I hope one day we don’t need them, but it’s all about closing the gap. I think that with SXM Media, we can push these conversations everywhere, anywhere, so that they are heard by everyone and our voices are activated so that action is taken.

Female Quotient_Equality Lounge_CES2023_ candy bar

The Equality Lounge at CES offered inspiring, and sometimes cheeky, messaging across every touchpoint.

Photo credit: The Female Quotient (headshot)


*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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