Why do women dislike Sales?
The facts1 are compelling: only 2 out of 10 leading positions in sales are occupied by women! This compares with close to 50% in finance, communications, customer service, and HR functions.
Why is that and what can be done to increase diversity with all its undisputable benefits?
Some more alarming facts2:
• 60 percent of women have not even considered a job in sales
• 67 percent say sales reminds them of a used car salesman
This aversion of women towards Sales is considered as one of the major obstacles in their ascent to higher positions altogether. Especially when one compares the number of women who start in Marketing and whose next natural career step would be in Sales.
Some major reasons for that aversion are explained when one studies the key success factors in sales leadership as described in the article: Leadership: Sales vs. Marketing
While success in Marketing is fueled by creativity and flexibility, success in Sales leadership depends on discipline and firm command. Such a regimented, male dominant environment is not that attractive for women.
One more reason is the traveling which is very common for sales. The idea of leaving children alone for days (and nights) does not seem that attractive for women or easily accepted by more traditional spouses. Globalization has made traveling necessary for all disciplines but for Sales, meeting customers and spending time with them is necessary even on a local level.
Women seem to favor a more stable income. Therefore, dependence on target achievement and the associated unpredictability explain why 79 percent of women don’t want a commission-based salary, something quite common in Sales. One should also add the alarming fact of women earning less than men in the same position.
Women, once in sales, are excellent, bringing another style of leadership. They are better at planning and they demonstrate competition not in terms of beating others at all costs, but by having a consistent attitude for collective win. Especially in times when sales become more collaborative and consultative! Measuring success in terms of quota attainment, in average it is 3% higher for women (67% for men and 70% for women).
Sales is an intuition based discipline and regular feedback is essential to allow someone ascent to leadership roles. Men tend to be either too soft or less direct when giving feedback to women in sales, something that eventually restricts their development.
What to do.
Companies need to support more women coming into Sales. One measure is to establish a formal mentoring program. It could be led by higher level female leaders, either in Sales or in any other area and will help them feel they belong in an environment so dominantly male. Such an interaction will be valuable for all, revealing the challenges that are unique to women in their company.
A mentoring initiative could be part of a wider program, bringing together women who can both support each other in the challenges they face and celebrate successes. Mentoring can vary from a 10 minutes’ coffee with one or more leaders in the organization to forming a peer group which can discuss an issue.
Women, on the other side, need also to seek advocates or sponsors. Sponsors will walk you into the meeting that nobody else on your level would get into because they see your potential. Or they say in a private meeting, “You need to consider Mary because Mary has these skills, too.” Sponsors are going to step up and go to bat for you – and they have power.
Fact is that in times of networks, your network is your net worth!
It is widely acknowledged that gender diversity increases the range of perspectives at the leadership table and improves company performance. Putting more women in sales and providing a level playing field will definitely support gender diversity!
1 Research conducted by CEB: a global best practice insights and technology company that provides products and services to businesses worldwide
2 The 2015 Closing the Gender Gap in Sales study