Women make up only 29% of sales reps and just 26% of sales managers, yet women in sales are proven to outperform their male colleagues, according to a study done by Xactly. This lack of representation can be attributed to many things, such as negative stereotypes, sexism, poor recruitment methods, and a gender wage gap, with women receiving lower salaries than their male counterparts. Nevertheless, organizations see greater profits with more women in sales.
So how can organizations increase their sales team diversity? First, they must acknowledge the added benefits women in sales can bring to the workplace and then seek to understand the challenges these professionals face. Finally, organizations must take the necessary steps to attract and retain diverse talent.
Challenges Facing Women in Sales
One of the largest challenges that women face in sales is overcoming bias and stereotypes. Many think of jobs in this industry as positions men excel at because of the aggressive nature associated with sales. Women’s sales abilities are often underestimated, and this viewpoint has become a common unconscious bias among individuals in sales.
This stereotype creates real obstacles for women in sales — receiving unsolicited advice to change fields, not getting promotions on account of unconscious biases, and earning a lower salary than their male colleagues. Women also experience fewer promotion opportunities, which is perpetuated by the idea that 91% of men in sales believe their female colleagues have access to the same opportunities as them.
Sexism experienced by women in sales, combined with the fact that women make up less than a third of sales reps, results in women feeling as though they don’t have a community. They feel undervalued and underrepresented.
Benefits to Having More Women in Sales
Despite the challenges that women in sales face, studies show that they actually outperform men in sales. Women-led teams, which tend to be more gender-diverse than men-led teams, have a 94% win and quota attainment rate — three percentage points higher than men-led teams, according to Xactly. Additionally, a greater representation of women in sales leads to a more diverse client group.
Women bring different skill sets to the world of sales, including emphasizing connection, shaping solutions, and collaborating. These skills are becoming more important as the industry shifts to digital sales, affecting not only organizations’ operations but also clients’ needs.
Steps to Attract and Retain Women in Sales
Increasing the number of women in sales requires changing how an organization attracts, retains, and promotes them.
The first step toward creating a diverse company is changing recruitment methods to attract more women to the field.
The language in a job description is a great place to start when focusing on recruiting a diverse pool of applicants. Taking out key words that tend to attract men to positions, such as “aggressive” and “compete,” will help defeat some stereotypes women already face, according to the Harvard Business Review. Instead, more positive words, such as “succeed” and “customer-focused,” convey an inclusive company culture. Organizations must also clearly communicate to their employees their goal of creating and implementing a diversity-centered recruiting method.
Another way to attract applicants of all genders is to publicize diversity efforts. This can include releasing a statement of intent to improve equality within sales. Organizations should be transparent about their lack of diversity while also highlighting their intention to improve in that area. Finally, highlighting the impact of female managers and executives within an organization will also encourage women to apply.
After attracting more women to sales, organizations must make a concerted effort to retain them. This entails fostering an inclusive culture and providing mentorship and promotion opportunities. Changing the culture of a work environment takes time, but training employees to confront their bias, openly discussing the shift toward inclusivity, holding executives accountable, and offering sponsorships are effective ways to initiate that change, according to Harvard Business Review.
Since sales is a male-dominated industry and women already receive fewer opportunities, employers should strive to provide additional career support to women. One way for an organization to do this is by providing women in sales with access to a company sponsor. Sponsors help guide women through their career opportunities and map out their paths. They also introduce them to a network of individuals who could help them advance in their careers. For example, a sponsor could be a manager who introduces the employee to customers or new co-workers and leadership.
Offering female employees the opportunity to establish mentor relationships with other women within the company will help establish a sense of community for women in sales. These female mentors can help their mentees acclimate to the new environment and serve as a resource when they need to discuss challenges women specifically face.
Part of increasing retention is offering opportunities for growth. Ensuring women from within the company have opportunities to apply for higher-level positions will help increase diversity and offer career momentum. Additionally, having women in leadership positions will attract more women to the industry because it shows there is a definitive place for them.
Strengths Women Bring to Sales
Because women tend to excel in certain areas, women and women-led teams often outperform men and men-led teams in sales. For example, studies have found women exhibit better listening skills and emotional intelligence — qualities that attract customers. According to Forbes, 74% of customers are more likely to buy if they feel they’ve been heard. Additionally, understanding and managing client emotions will facilitate relationship-building, which creates a loyal customer base.
Lastly, women can help increase diversity in both client groups and the sales industry because they understand equity issues such as gender gaps. Employing individuals who understand adversity will help the company relate to a diverse customer group and grow its diversity efforts.
Start Changing the Sales Industry With a Degree From St. Kate’s
Whether you are a woman in sales or want to help increase diversity in the industry, St. Catherine University’s School of Business will help you make change. In both the graduate and undergraduate programs, students gain the skills to become leaders in the sales industry through courses such as Ethics and Integrity in Selling and Strategic Leadership. The School of Business’ Center for Sales Innovation, established with support from 3M, focuses on developing successful and ethical sales leaders, as well as advancing the field of sales through educational opportunities to students and sales professionals. Begin changing the sales industry at St. Catherine University.