Who do you think of when you think of a sales professional? If you’re reading this blog, you might think of yourself, but most people will imagine a man. This isn’t just based on old-timey stereotypes and media; women are still vastly outnumbered by men in sales. While women have been making progress in the field, the percentage of women has only increased by 3% in the last decade. We need more women in sales. How can we achieve this?
The Numbers Aren’t Pretty
As things stand, only 39% of sales professionals are women, but the numbers vary depending on industry. For example, women make up 50% of sales professionals in media, as well as in government and education, but only 24% of sales professionals in oil and energy and 25% of those in hardware technology. This indicates that sales divisions are affected by industry biases, just like the other specialties within those fields.
The higher up you go, the fewer women there are. Overall, women in the roles of sales directors or above represent just 27% of those positions. Again, this depends on your field. While half of sales professionals in the media, government, and education industries are women, just 38% and 43% of the Directors+ of Sales are women. Still, this is a far cry better than the oil and energy field and hardware technology fields, which have just 12% of Sales Directors+ being women. As you climb the sales ladder further, there are fewer and fewer women, with only 21% of Vice Presidents of Sales being women.
How can this be the case? Advertisements for sales positions tend to use highly “masculine” language, which may subconsciously discourage women from applying. When women do apply and get an interview, it could be that male interviewers don’t know how to recognize in women traits that are beneficial to sales. Perhaps it stems from assumptions about a woman’s availability to entertain clients after work hours. Whatever the case, something is clearly standing in the way of gender equality in sales.
We Need Women
The fact is that saleswomen are good at their job. Women are more likely than men to reach their sales quotas, and yet they tend receive a lower commission than their male counterparts, as well as a lower base pay. Women are also more effective in sales leadership positions than men, and yet they take a year longer to get promoted.
Just having women on board is great for a company’s bottom line. Gender diversity within leadership roles correlates with increased sales revenue and they attract more customers, and those companies enjoy a greater profit margin than those who are overwhelmingly male. It makes sense: Having a diverse team means that there is a higher chance to make an emotional connection with a diverse clientele. A homogenous sales team can only expect to appeal to a narrow slice of the market.
Women are a great asset to have on a sales team. They can relate to different clients in different ways, but are also just as capable as any man is. Of course, women are a diverse group and can’t be described as a monolith – not all women are empathetic, calm, or polite – so look at each woman as the individual she is, just as you should do with men.
How to Close the Gap
For everyone’s sake, it’s important to bring gender equality into sales. How can we do this? For those in a position to do so, it would be useful to teach men involved in hiring new salespeople how to recognize persistence, creativity, and organization in a woman. Many women play sports, but sports aren’t the only indicator of someone who is competitive yet knows how to take a loss. Train hiring managers to recognize myriad experiences as lending themselves to the development of skills that behoove a sales professional.
We also need to shift the paradigm on how sales professionals can build relationships with clients. The idea that it’s a boys’ club that requires rounds and rounds of golf is antiquated. First of all, women also can and do play golf. Secondly, there are myriad ways to build client relationships; some may involve golf or other forms of entertainment, others may not. In any case, the emphasis should be on quality service.
Finally, companies should make an effort to recruit saleswomen for their teams. As we’ve already said, gender diversity is good for business. Women already in the sales profession should give a hand up to other women interested in entering the career and be ready to mentor them. New saleswomen should seek out these women, as well as men, to be their mentors and sponsors during their careers. Sales is all about making connections and building a strong network, so apply that mindset to people within the field as well as clients.
More Women Sales Professionals
While we can agree that there are too few women in sales, we need to address the different products being sold when we consider how to close the gap. In general, we need more women selling tech and energy, and not necessarily in media or education. Across the board, however, more women need to be promoted to leadership roles. Women do well in sales and can be valuable assets to their organizations, and we need to retrain hiring staff and recruit more women to demonstrate those facts. Women in sales must also take a role in encouraging women to join the profession and helping them do so. A rise of 3% in 10 years is not enough! It’s time to close the sales gap.
Petite2Queen provides virtual mentoring to young women in life, at work, and in sales. Follow us for more practical advice you can put to use to improve your life and career.
Rachel Whitbeck is the Director of Content at Petite2Queen. She is working towards her PhD in Sociology at the University of Limerick in Ireland. Rachel uses her experience in writing, editing, and research to develop content that appeals to and is reflective of the diverse millennial woman.