Much evidence supports the business case for gender diversity; in a nutshell, diversity generates stronger business results. The positive impact on business performance has been widely acknowledged among leaders, but some business disciplines, such as sales, are still struggling to get the numbers right.
Only 39 percent of sales-related roles are filled by women. At the leadership level, it’s less than 19 percent, and this number hasn’t changed over the last 10 years. Let’s face it: There is still a huge misconception about the sales profession. The general notion is that a good salesperson has to be pushy and aggressive with a “don’t-take-no-for-an-answer” mentality. This myth not only implicitly excludes many women, but it’s also dated, especially in tech sales.
Exceptional salespeople focus on building lasting relationships and fostering trust, are active listeners, and respond thoughtfully. These qualities are commonly, but not exclusively, associated with women.
So, what needs to be done to attract, retain and develop female sales talent?
Changing the Reputation of the Profession
Sales must cast off its outdated stereotype of an alpha-male kingdom, one that prevents women from considering sales as a career. This stereotype puts women at a disadvantage, especially since for people with high career aspirations, sales experience is extremely advantageous. A McKinsey study found that candidates with profit and loss accountability are more often destined for the C-suite.
Simple actions, like optimizing a job description, emphasizing the relationship management aspects of sales roles, and profiling successful women in sales, can minimize the risk of women self-selecting out of applying for open sales jobs.
Implementing Personality Training
In most cases, male-dominated teams don’t realize that their behavior might be exclusionary or that male team leaders may be unconsciously biased in favor of colleagues who are similar to them. Recognition is the first step and needs to start at the top. Leaders must invest personal capital and actively demonstrate the desired mindsets and behaviors to build a more open and accepting culture.
Furthermore, by implementing personality dynamics analysis in training programs, organizations can heighten awareness of the benefits of diversity and make interactions between different personality types more effective, both with colleagues and clients. Personality dynamics training will change the workplace culture to everyone’s advantage, not just women’s, and increase emotional intelligence – a critical sales skill.
Ensuring Pervasive Sponsorship
Sponsors are crucial to the development of high-potential women (and men). With fewer role models in sales, women may miss out on opportunities for mentoring with sponsors who have had similar career experiences and can guide the way. In sales teams where diversity needs to be extended, senior leaders can accelerate the process by encouraging external networking with female sales role models. This is the concept behind Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement.
Opening Young Minds
Increasingly, young people start formulating ideas about future career aspirations at the crucial age of 12 or 13. Sales leaders need to more actively engage students at the secondary and college levels to raise the profile of the profession, as well as when women enter the workforce.
Women returning to the workforce also need to be included in sales talent attraction strategies. Never underestimate the tenacity of a working parent to go above and beyond to achieve sales success.
These are just some of the steps successful sales organizations take to address gender diversity. If the organization is not fully supporting the women who work there, chances are good that it is not supporting some of the men, too.