Sales has a problem, and it isn’t sales targets. There is a lack of gender diversity in sales; women are underrepresented. According to one study, women only account for 39% of salespeople. The numbers are even worse when you look at sales management, where women only account for 21% of leaders at the VP level. This is lower than the average percentage of women VPs for all industries, which is 26%.
Not only is this bad for gender diversity, but it is also bad for business. In the organizations that have the top 20% financial performance, women fill at least 27% of leadership roles. In the bottom 20%, women only represent 19% of the leadership team. So, what can your organization do to enable women, and, in turn, improve performance?
Foster a Collaborative Environment
Women have higher representation in fields that tend to have greater collaboration. In order to create an environment in which women want to work and feel welcome, foster a sense of collaboration among the team members. This is not something that can be slapped together as a “gender diversity” initiative – it takes time, effort, and planning to create collaboration. However, the end result will not only be an environment in which women want to work, but also one where knowledge sharing is encouraged, team members walk the extra mile to get the job done, and are more engaged in their roles.
Encourage Communication, Listening Skills, and Empathy
The days of the pushy sales guy have passed. Today’s successful sales people are great listeners, excellent communicators, and experts in their customer’s pains. In North American society, women are socialized from a young age to excel in these areas, which should set them up to be your top salespeople. Does your sales organization’s culture reflect this? Are sales people rewarded for their ability to listen and empathize with customers? There could be ways in which your sales processes reward skills that are not common among women, and that are not helping your sales numbers. Consider how the soft skills in sales can be encouraged, rewarded, and nurtured in your organization.
Treat Genders Equally for the Same Behaviors
There are several studies that show that some of the behaviors that are considered admirable in men are considered too aggressive or pushy in women. For instance, studies have found that women are penalized more harshly for salary negotiation than men. Given that sales roles can involve some intense negotiation and uncompromising tactics, it’s possible that your sales team and sales leaders are inadvertently punishing women for the behaviors that will make them successful in the role. In order to enable women in sales, it is critical that there is an even playing field, and women are treated equally for exhibiting the same behaviors as men.
There are some clear steps that organizations can take to improve gender diversity in sales and in sales leadership. Doing so will not only improve diversity and retention, but it will also improve the workplace culture and processes, and, ultimately, the bottom line.
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