When I started out as an inside sales rep for a distributor selling hardware and software computer solutions, I noticed that I was one of just a few women on the sales team. At first, I didn’t think much about the gender imbalance. I was hired for the role by the VP of Sales who was a woman. My first front-line sales manager in that company was a woman too. Later, I simply thought a lot of women didn’t pursue a career in sales. It was true then. It is true now. Many women do not think about or pursue a career in sales. And those women that do pursue sales positions are often turned off by male dominated, bro cultures that is often the norm in many companies.
The Sales Function Has the Biggest Gender Equity Gap, Second Only to Supply Chain/Logistics. — CEB: Gaining the Talent Advantage
Times are Changing
In recent years, companies like New Relic, Salesforce, LinkedIn, InsideView, Culture Amp, Microsoft, 3Pillar Global, TechTarget, IBM, ServiceTitan, SalesLoft, AlphaSense, VMware and many others have made it a priority to create more diverse and inclusive sales organizations. They recognize the many business benefits that diverse sales teams deliver. And research backs them up.
In Gaining the Talent Advantage: Gender Diversity in Sales, a CEB/Gartner Global study, they reported that higher-levels of gender diverse sales teams not only outperformed revenue goals but deals were much more profitable. Diverse teams also deliver a better customer experience because people want to work with people they can relate too. From a recruiting perspective, more women on your sales teams will encourage other women to apply for sales roles at your company, and they will be more likely to accept an offer if women are well represented, especially in the leadership ranks.
The Percentage of Women in First-Line Sales Management Has Remained Flat for Over 10 Years and Women Continue to Be Underrepresented at All Levels of Sales Leadership. -CEB: Gaining the Talent Advantage
Even though we are seeing improvements, the going is still slow. Women occupy roughly 36% of sales roles in companies, and women in sales leadership roles hovers at around 19%. Seriously? Companies can do much better.
As women join your sales teams, find out if they aspire to move into management. If they do, they may become frustrated and leave if they see few women being advanced into management positions. If women are expressing interest in moving into management, be sure you are providing guidance, mentoring, training and coaching to help them get there.
How do companies attract more women into sales roles?
Make recruiting women a strategic business priority. Don’t talk about it. Do it.
Use LinkedIn. A quick search on LinkedIn can reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of potential candidates. Granted, your job requirements may narrow the pool. For example, you may feel you need reps to live in a specific geographic location. But if you are having trouble finding the right candidates locally, perhaps this is an opportunity to assess whether or not the right candidate can work remotely and be just as successful in achieving their objectives. Times have changed. You have to ask yourself why you need salespeople to gather in an office every day. I’m pretty confident that target prospects and current customers could care less where your salespeople do their work. Automattic, a company that employs over 500 employees in over 50 countries who all work remotely believes that the work produced is more important than where employees reside or the hours put in. I couldn’t agree more.
Get creative. Consider women in B2C sales roles who could make the transition to B2B selling. A company looking to hire a rep to support their retail vertical could benefit by bringing someone on board who has experience in B2C retail. They already understand the retail world and would require less training to get up to speed. Don’t overlook women in marketing, service or finance roles who may be open to making a switch if they only knew what that might entail. On my Conversations with Women in Sales podcast, I’ve interviewed women who started in finance, marketing or engineering and later made the switch to sales without looking back.
Instead of recruiting in the usual places, tap into women’s networks on social media, on college campuses, LinkedIn groups, local women’s events and more. Connect with women like me who have a very large global network and know hundreds of women in sales at all levels.
Fix gaps in pay.
Despite women achieving equal or even higher levels of performance against sales quota, they are paid less both in base pay and commission. This is a fact confirmed by CEB and other research firms. It is simply unacceptable.
Many studies have reported that this gap is initially created because women are less inclined than men to push harder for more money when negotiating the terms of their employment. As a result, women are behind from the beginning and over time the problem is compounded. It is true that women need to be more assertive in how they negotiate their employment agreements. What is more important is that the pay equality burden rests on the shoulders of companies doing the hiring. There is no excuse for women performing equal too and even outperforming their male peers and earning less in their paychecks!
Adapt and update your benefits packages.
When it comes to benefits, the package that companies offer is key to recruitment and retention but too often we see benefits offered that are more attractive to men than women. Free beer and Foosball doesn’t appeal to everyone. A local Atlanta company who creatively reworked their benefits package is SalesLoft, who puts a high priority on diversity and inclusion. Their package now includes perks for new moms and dads like covering the cost and providing diaper delivery for 1-year or home meal delivery for 12-weeks to reduce stress when their newborn comes home.
Review and Rework Job Descriptions
Appeal to women’s desire to be collaborative in working with customers to solve problems. Review the language used in your recruitment messaging and in job ads when seeking to hire women in sales. Ditch the warrior language. Words like aggressive, crusher, killer or take no prisoners are off putting to most women and creates an impression that selling is a cut-throat business. I’ve been in sales for two plus decades, and never once did I need to be “cut-throat” to succeed in achieving my quota goals.
Bringing it home.
Make diversity and inclusion a key strategic business priority. Gender diverse sales teams out perform revenue goals and deals are more profitable.
Customer experience is a key competitive advantage, and the experience buyers have with your organization matters. It is not uncommon for buying teams in mid-sized or enterprise companies making purchasing decisions to consider if the vendors they are evaluating have diverse and inclusive cultures.
Finally, from a recruiting point of view, more women on your sales teams will encourage other women to apply for sales roles at your company, and they will be more likely to accept your offer if women are well represented, especially in the leadership ranks.
Talk to me about the consulting work I do with organizations to help reach more women for sales roles, as well as our coaching and virtual programs to help women navigate and overcome challenges unique to them.