Selling Power Blog

News & Insights for B2B Sales Leaders

February 21, 2018

Why Companies Should Want More Women in Sales (and How to Get Them)

By Carolyn Murray, Sales Development Rep, DiscoverOrg

In 2018 – a year that has amplified the resounding cry of the continued need for gender diversity – I had been hoping the tide had begun to turn regarding the imbalance between men and women hired for positions in sales.

I was overly optimistic.

In the industry in which I work – sales and marketing intelligence – the statistics are stark: In tech, women make up just 12 percent of sales leadership, according to a Fenwick & West study. I sell our product to salespeople, and my records show just 17 percent of my customers are women.

While the issue may seem complicated, companies that 1) recognize the importance of gender diversity and 2) commit to gender diversity in their hiring and employment practices will be the inevitable winners in this equation. Furthermore, companies unwilling to take an active stance on gender diversity will suffer economic consequences.

Research from The University of Illinois at Chicago, Gallup and McKinsey has shown that a more diverse workforce leads to more positive outcomes. Further, several studies – including that  from the Peterson Institute for Global Economics – show diversity in gender, age, ethnicity, and race helps businesses increase market share, avoid turnover costs, and have a more innovative workplace. Specifically, as this applies to gender, here are more statistics, from the 2013 Xactly Insights Gender Study of Sales:

  • Women in sales achieve higher quotas
  • Women in sales usually remain in their role longer, decreasing turnover
  • Companies with gender parity see above-average revenue, market share, and profitability

To hire more women on your sales team, start taking active steps to create a sales culture where women want to work – and thrive. Here are at least five things you can do.

Five Ways to Get More Women in Sales

#1: Offer clear, specific encouragement to young women and girls.

In a male-dominated industry, if you’re going to empower any minority – women or otherwise – to break the mold, it’ll take some encouragement. I can’t emphasize enough what an impact a few words will make on young women. As simple as it sounds, “You’d be great at sales!” goes a long way for a kid. So tell your daughters, nieces, sisters, and female friends that their confidence, drive, and diligence would be great fuel for them in a successful sales career.

#2: Question your beliefs about your own sales culture.

Do you believe you haven’t been able to hire women because female applicants see a team of men and they don’t want to join? If that’s your excuse, I’m not buying it.

As a sales leader, it’s important to consider how your beliefs might be shaping reality. The truth is, many young women want to take the path less traveled – and they’ll go out of their way to fight cultural norms. (If I told you I wasn’t absolutely thrilled to be the first woman on our sales team, I’d be lying. It’s half the reason I took the job!)

#3: Find ways to actively recruit female candidates.

Want to find great female candidates to recruit? Remember, other industries tend to be much higher in female-to-male ratios (think recruitment or retail sales), but they tend to pay less. Such employees already have strong sales skills and ample experience. Take a page from the tech industry’s playbook and actively recruit these experienced female employees. Once you lay out their earning potential, it shouldn’t be a hard sell.

You can also develop relationships with the schools and universities in your area – particularly the career center, professors, and alumni, who will have more insight into your candidates’ work ethic and experience. They can connect you with a more diverse crowd who might not have otherwise been on the radar.

When prospecting to college grads, your brand matters, including your logo, job posting, Internet presence, sexual harassment policy, and Glassdoor reviews. Sell an environment where hard work is rewarded, mentorship is encouraged, and diversity equals success.

#4: Re-evaluate some of your job requirements.

Men apply for jobs when they meet 60 percent of job qualifications; women don’t apply until they’ve met 100 percent of them, says Forbes, quoting an often-cited internal report from Hewlett-Packard. If your job qualification of five years of full sales cycle experience isn’t an actual requirement, change it. Consider what kind of candidates you might be discouraging.

#5: Create a sales culture in which women can advance and succeed.

If many of the stats around female representation are irritating, this one is infuriating: 68 percent of investors preferred entrepreneurial ventures pitched by a man rather than an identical pitch from a woman, in a study conducted jointly by researchers from HBS, Wharton, and MIT Sloan. Male-led pitches were rated as more persuasive, logical, and fact based than those narrated by a female voice.

This is what women face daily in sales, and it’s a silent advancement killer. Even for those 12 percent of women who make it to the top – as an entrepreneur or a C-level executive – their pitch is not equally received. Female leaders continue to face these challenges.

Think about the women you work with: No matter how qualified, advanced, or outperforming they are, if current hiring practices and the treatment of women salespeople continue unchecked, they will face this daunting reality as they pitch their prospects for years to come.

If you think your hiring and advancement processes are objective, think again. Talk to female members on your team, and with other women in sales and leadership positions: Are all the elements of your recruitment process – from job description to application process, to hiring, to promotion – truly inclusive of professional men and women alike?

It may be easy to assume you’re already trying hard enough to get more women in your sales organization…but look closely at the situation. Think about what you could do to improve, and then try harder to succeed – just as all successful salespeople do.

Headshot of Carolyn Murray

Today’s post is by Carolyn Murray, who started at DiscoverOrg as a sales development rep and quickly became the company’s first female account executive. She received her B.A. in business administration from Gonzaga University.