Makers Of The Metaverse: Shelley Zalis Of The Female Quotient (The FQ) On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries
… The whole idea of decentralization creates space for equal opportunity. In the physical workplace, women are behind because they weren’t included in the workforce until late to the game. The rules and ways of running businesses were being written by men before women even had the chance to be a part of it. In spaces like Web3, the rules are being written right now. We are all beginning at the same starting line this time. I think another big factor in all this is that with virtual opportunities becoming available, parental responsibilities can equalize. There’s more opportunity for men to be home just as much as women have historically been. We don’t have to move these traditional standards of parenting forward, and these virtual workplaces offer an amount of freedom and flexibility that could really aid in this. We can start rewriting the way we work.
The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, we had the pleasure of interviewing Shelley Zalis
Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient (The FQ), is an internationally renowned thought leader, movement maker, and champion of equality. She is a pioneer for online research, becoming the first female chief executive ranked in the research industry’s top 25. Today, The FQ is largely recognized for its Equality Lounge, a staple at SXSW, CES, Cannes Lion, and Davos which brings together women and leaders from all over and will be the first-of-its-kind in the Metaverse.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Shelley! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up one of four girls. My dad was a cardiologist in the army, so we were army brats. We spent time in San Francisco, then three years in Germany, and then Los Angeles. It was truly an amazing life because our parents taught us to live with no regrets. They lived like there was endless time. My dad wanted to leave us with experiences and memories, and it’s why we are so close as a family. I remember on one trip, my dad asked if we wanted to go for a ride in a glass-bottom boat and we all said we didn’t care or we didn’t know. At that moment my dad said “Are you pumpkins? Never don’t care. Always have an opinion.” That experience really shaped who I am today. I live with a sense of wonder and adventure and am always present. My mother is also a huge source of inspiration to me. She became a mom after being a senior policy advisor to a former governor of California. She helped found the first women’s conference in California that is still very active today. I look at my career now, and I’m walking in her footsteps. My mother really did it all. She raised four girls that love each other and share the same values and had an incredible career as a change agent. I think the way that my sisters and I have turned out today is a real testament to who my parents are.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
As a little girl, I was really drawn to stories centered around powerful women and girls owning who they were. I loved Marcia Brady from the TV show The Brady Bunch, Olivia Newton-John discovering herself in the leather outfit in Grease, the scene in Dirty Dancing where they say “nobody puts Baby in a corner.” These stories are about finding your power. Olivia Newton-John’s leather outfit was her power suit. Marcia was a leader. Baby found her individuality. These kinds of stories about women have always stuck with me.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the X Reality industry? We’d love to hear it.
My work in these industries stems from The FQ’s goal of making the workplace better and more equitable for women. Because these industries are new and still forming, I want to be sure we all have an equal chance to be a part of it and be equal contributors. At this stage, the rules and norms are still being determined and if we get in early, we can prevent any gender or other social constructs that might create barriers to entry from taking shape.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
In the early parts of my career, I was the first female CEO in the Top 25 of research and truly was the “only and lonely” woman at industry conferences. I would walk the floor of these conferences, spanning across many industries, and all I saw was a boy’s club. One year, I was planning to attend a tech conference, but quickly realized I didn’t have anyone to attend with. That’s when I decided I would create for other women what I didn’t have when I first started my career: a support system. So, I invited a handful of women to walk the conference floor with me and that’s when I realized that a woman alone has power, but collectively, we have impact.
Soon, I was surrounded by women just like me, leaders in their industries, who were often alone. When we came together, we realized that we were all dealing with similar challenges like imposter syndrome and maintaining a work/life balance. Coming together as a community was so powerful, women were uplifting each other and that was the driving force behind creating The Female Quotient’s Equality Lounges, which have evolved and are now a staple at every major conference across the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Saying no to a very well-known and very successful entrepreneur who is now on Shark Tank. He wanted to test his movie using OTX, and I ultimately said no because I wasn’t secure. The movie could easily be lifted, and he was willing to risk it, but I was too afraid. He respected me for making that call but looking back I think I should’ve just gone for it. I shouldn’t have played it safe. This is a great example of, no risk, no reward.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My dad and my husband. They know everything about my business. When I wanted to start my own business, everyone told me it wasn’t the right time. I was leaving a safe job, I didn’t have much money to start a business with, my kids were young, and my husband was still only a fellow at the hospital. Everyone told me it wasn’t the right time except for my dad and my husband. If I had waited for the right time, I would not have been the pioneer of online research. The right time is when you decide it’s the right time. I will always be grateful they encouraged me to trust myself.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The FQ partnered with EWG Unlimited, the innovation and influence arm of Elite World Group, to release the first global report revealing the reactions, motivations and needs from women in a new Web 3.0 world.
We want to equip brands with the knowledge they need to be able to adjust their Web 3.0 strategies to empower and educate the highly impactful female demographic. Despite making up nearly half of online communities, female audiences and creators have long been overlooked or sidelined at the forefront of technological innovation The report’s findings were explored during live panel conversations and special events at Cannes Lions.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The VR, AR and MR industries seem so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?
- The beauty about Web3 and this technology is the decentralization, which helps us ensure we are writing the rules and setting the tone for how business works presently, instead of retrofitting later. If we write the rules in a way that works for the collective minority, then the majority will naturally follow suit. Because the industries of Web3 are still developing and new, we have an opportunity to reimagine a more inclusive way of conducting business now.
- Finding talent for Web3 is another exciting opportunity. Right now, most companies are searching for talent in industries related to technology, and many are seeking to fill roles in Web3. Because Web3 is a relatively new space, we are going to see a wave of upskilling talent to fill these positions. The FQ is excited about this amazing opportunity to help women get comfortable with and lead the way in Web3.
- Expanding our reach through this technology is a huge advancement. Our virtual Equality Lounges can now be accessed 24/7 from Decentraland which offers the flexibility many women need to be successful in business. These Equality Lounges will be an accessible and safe space for women to come together and create the infrastructure for business in the metaverse.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the VR, AR and MR industries? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
Everything new is a bit scary and can be cause for concern for any business, but that’s what’s exciting. If we want to advance and be on the cutting edge of innovation and change, we have to take risks. Like I said earlier, my biggest lesson early on in my career was: no risk, no reward. We have to approach these budding industries as an opportunity to build the future.
I think my biggest concern about these industries is that women will hold themselves back from being leaders in this space. Women are impacted by imposter syndrome more often than men, and so I just want to help make sure women have the opportunities to present while the rules are being written in these spaces. The FQ is going to help address all these concerns, and we ultimately need to believe in ourselves too.
I think the entertainment aspects of VR, AR and MR are apparent. Can you share with our readers how these industries can help us at work?
For our work specifically, along with educating women and upskilling them for Web3, we are expanding our content and editorial offerings to our partners. The metaverse offers unique ways to develop employee skills and access training from anywhere in the world. The metaverse also makes engaging with customers accessible, no matter the location. Selling virtual goods to subset customers who may face real-world financial barriers, or raising awareness around products and services to a larger audience are just a few ways that the metaverse engages new customers.
Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?
The whole idea of decentralization creates space for equal opportunity. In the physical workplace, women are behind because they weren’t included in the workforce until late to the game. The rules and ways of running businesses were being written by men before women even had the chance to be a part of it. In spaces like Web3, the rules are being written right now. We are all beginning at the same starting line this time. I think another big factor in all this is that with virtual opportunities becoming available, parental responsibilities can equalize. There’s more opportunity for men to be home just as much as women have historically been. We don’t have to move these traditional standards of parenting forward, and these virtual workplaces offer an amount of freedom and flexibility that could really aid in this. We can start rewriting the way we work.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?
A study from March 2022 shared that 48% of men are interested in using the metaverse, while only 28% of women are interested. Businesses are starting to accept the idea that these industries are central to their objectives because there are so many opportunities for professional development and company growth within these spaces. Historically, we’ve seen the tech and gaming worlds heavily saturated by men, but there are women who are ready and excited about entering those spaces. The same goes for this new landscape with the Metaverse and Web3. Women can’t be left behind and need to be at the forefront. Our work is all about ensuring women have the tools and resources to feel comfortable entering the space. We have a great opportunity to shape what it means to conduct business through this technology, and we are continually working to dispel the idea that there isn’t a place for the collective minority in these industries.
What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The VR, AR or MR Industries?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Bravery. This is a brand-new world. I think you have to approach it keeping in mind all the possibilities. If I let fear hold me back from creating my own company, I would never have gotten as far as I did. I wouldn’t be able to help other women now.
- Boldness. Never want to look back and think coulda, woulda, shoulda. Women rarely ask for enough, and I think in entering any new career we have to start asking for more from the get.
- Self-Permission. You must be prepared to try and to fail and learn and succeed. Any negative self-talk is going to hold back what is possible. There are no rules in this space and hardly any precedent. We have to allow ourselves to innovate.
- Business mindset. Women tend to enter new careers in creative positions more often than the leading business roles. To be successful, you need to have a business mindset in addition to the other talents you are bringing to the table.
- The power of 3s. Women bring the power of three to everything they do. We have to invite more people into these spaces and projects, and women are going to be the ones to do that. It’s a way of paying it forward and multiplying our impact.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to inspire more people to say yes. I want people to believe in themselves and to act toward what they want. I want people to start saying yes more and not hold themselves back in what they could accomplish.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
All the First Ladies. I don’t think they have ever realized how much power for change they truly have had. I would want to tell them that they do have a seat at the table and that they can use it. I want them to believe in themselves too.
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!
Makers Of The Metaverse: Shelley Zalis Of The Female Quotient (The FQ) On The Future Of The VR, AR… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.