Closing the gap: Luncheon speaker seeks equity for women in workforce

Shelley Zalis is founder of Female Quotient, a Los Angeles company that works with corporations to positively impact their culture, profitability and overall business success. She is the speaker for the Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga's fifth annual Voices Luncheon on Wednesday.

Erasing the wage gap between men and women isn't that hard, says Shelley Zalis, founder of the Los Angeles-based Female Quotient.

One business owner, Marc Benioff, CEO of the cloud-based software company Salesforce, proved it when one day he pushed a button to take inventory of each employee's job and experience and then compared the salaries of men to women.

When he realized the pay standards were unequal, he added $3 million to his payroll to make the pay of women comparable to men.

"No. 1, you've got to look in the mirror and ask yourself the hard questions even if you don't want the answers," says Zalis. "You've got to be conscious of it. No. 2, you have to be willing to do something. You can't just talk about it. That's not going to change anything."

If you go

* What: Women’s Fund of Greater Chattanooga luncheon.* When: 10:45 a.m. Wednesday.* Where: Stratton Hall, 3146 Broad St.* Admission: $65.* Phone: 423-443-9915.

Zalis is the speaker for the Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga's fifth annual Voices Luncheon. She speaks at Stratton Hall on Wednesday. Doors open at 10:45 a.m. for the "Power of the Purse Silent Auction," and the program will conclude at 1 p.m.

Her company, the Female Quotient, works with corporations to positively impact their culture, profitability and overall business success.

Having Zalis speak about women's equality at the luncheon is among many steps the Women's Fund is taking to move Tennessee from being one of the worse states for women to being among the best.

Across the country, women earned 83 cents for every $1 earned by a man in 2015, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time employees. In Tennessee, women earned 82 cents for every dollar paid to a man, amounting to a yearly wage gap of about $7,652 for full-time employees, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.

It was 2015 when the Institute for Women's Policy Research released a report naming Tennessee as one of the worst states for women. The Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga will spend this year working for improvement by drawing attention to policies and disparities concerning women.

"We have an action plan to help Tennessee move from 49 to 1 in the status of women and that is to focus our work on the seven places that matter most to the status of women," says Emily O'Donnell, executive director of the Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga.

Those areas are political participation, employment and earning, work and family, poverty and opportunity, reproductive rights, health and well-being and safety and violence, she says.

Those are the places where the organization knows the state trails behind other states. And by looking at other states the Women's Fund can figure out what works and what doesn't, says O'Donnell.

For example, the organization will continue to advocate for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act so that women can safely remain in the workforce while pregnant and nursing. That will help them increase their wages and provide for their families, she says.

The Institute for Women's Policy Research report ranked Tennessee 49th, tied with Kentucky, and just above Mississippi and Alabama for being among the worst states for women. Mississippi and Tennessee ranked among the worst states for women in all five years that IWPR has calculated the results.

"It's a legacy issue," says Zalis. "The workplace was made over 100 years ago for men by men when women weren't really in the workplace. So we're still just playing catch-up, which is so silly"

"We just have to stop the bleeding and start a new conversation," she sys. "Not trying to catch up. Because if we're trying to catch up, we'll just keep trying. We need to just level the playing field."

Contact Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.