Only 19% of sales leadership positions are held by women in the UK. It’s a similar picture in the US where only a third of B2B roles are held by women. Till recently, it’s also been one of the slowest occupations to attract women; the amount of women in sales roles has only increased by 3 percent over the previous decade, according to Linkedin.
However, savvy sales companies are creating specific objectives for recruiting women, not driven by talent shortages but based on recent research which shows that women in sales roles are outperforming men.
The stereotypical image of a salesperson is someone highly decisive, comfortable with risk with assertiveness almost bordering on aggression. These are traits which gender stereotyping associates with men rather than women. Despite these perceptions, research shows that women often outperform their male counterparts in sales.
A 2019 report on State of Gender Equality in Sales by Xactly showed that not only did ‘86% of women achieve quota, compared to 78% of men’ but that ‘‘teams led by women tend to have higher win and quota attainment rates compared to male-led teams’ which also challenges common stereotypes of women as leaders.
Why women could be key to the future of sales
Expectations of salespeople are changing in today’s digitally assisted world. Although buyers can be more independent and well-informed, they expect salespeople to add the value that digital tools can’t provide.
Salespeople today need capabilities for collaborating with customers and proposing solutions. Even in areas like Financial Sales, clients still seek advice and a human perspective before making complex decisions. Research shows that women excel in trust-building, complex, and problem-solving roles.
A study by Harvard Business Review’s consultancy firm, ZS, looked at the performance of 500+ salespeople across several industries and identified seven capabilities of high-performing salespeople. In two, analysing and influencing, men and women performed very much the same. But in connecting, collaborating, and shaping solutions, key skills for today’s sales roles, women undoubtedly excelled.
The ability to connect, collaborate, and shape solutions are paramount for Customer Success Managers (CSMs) – an emerging role in sales teams. Similar to account managers, CSM’s encourage customer loyalty and retention but they do this by helping customers find solutions to problems in order to grow their business, plus extend their account. A recent article in Harvard Business Review noted that,
‘at least 50% and as high as 70% of CSMs are women. And as of April 2020, women were leading global customer success teams at some major tech companies, including Oracle and Salesforce.’
Attracting more Female Staff to your Team
The first hurdle to attracting women to sales can be dismantling its ‘old boys club’ image. Women want to see more female representation, such as women sales leaders on job interview panels, and evidence of a female-friendly culture such as female mentoring programmes.
Professional organisations such as the Women in Business Association can give you tips on making job descriptions more attractive to women by using gender-neutral language and emphasising the problem-solving aspects of sales roles.
Fairygodboss surveyed 1,000 men and women to learn more about how they evaluate potential employers, finding that ‘women are more likely to care about an employer’s stance on gender and racial equality.’ According to Glassdoor research, when it comes to understanding how inclusive an employer is, they’ll trust employee reviews much more than the company website.
Benefits and Compensation
Supportive policies on maternity leave and time off to care for children which enable women to be successful in both their work and home lives will certainly help make employers more attractive.
However, addressing the sales gender pay gap and assuring equality in promotions is likely to be most effective. Xactly’s 2019 State of Gender Equality in Sales report found that although
‘women tend to hit or exceed their quotas’ they are ‘paid less in salary and commissions over time.’ The report also offers evidence that ‘this pay gap worsens over time; as employees progress through their careers, men are more likely to find themselves in executive positions with bigger paychecks than their female counterparts.’
The same study found ‘that while female-led sales teams had roughly equal numbers of men and women, male-led teams were more than three-quarters men.’ Promoting more women to sales management and leadership roles, therefore, is a good way of attracting more women to sales.
We conducted our own research ‘Salary and Employment Guide for Western Europe & the Nordics’ (2020), and found that the largest pay gap in average OTE salaries between men and women in the UK was in the Account Manager category. The study also revealed that 76% of women chose a higher salary as the number one reason for changing jobs compared to just 52% of their male counterparts, suggesting women are particularly motivated by better compensation when it comes to their job search.
Finally, although flexible and remote working has become widely desirable, with 33% of all employees not wanting to return to a physical workplace, its importance to women is paramount. A recent House of Commons Briefing Paper on Women in the Economy reminds employers that ‘flexibility around working hours and location’ remains key ‘to balancing paid work with unpaid child and adult care, of which women (still) do the bulk.’
Challenges and Benefits
If social justice wasn’t a sufficient incentive for employers to recruit more women to sales, today’s research clearly shows that female sales staff do increase profits.
Creating more female-friendly cultures and role models will help increase companies’ appeal to female applicants. However, the factors most likely to incentivise more women into sales roles are addressing the pay gap, creating equal opportunities for promotion and compensation, and allowing flexibility around hours and location to continue.