A 2014 infographic called Women in Sales: Top Trends of Female Sales Professionals, which analyzed millions of LinkedIn profiles to measure the representation of women in the sales workforce, showed that there is still a wage and career gap that exists between male and female sales professionals. According to the analysis women made up 39% of all sales professionals in the LinkedIn network (up from 36% in the past 10 years), with only about a third (30%) of those women being in director level or higher positions.
Gender equality among the workforce is a complicated and nuanced issue that cannot be fixed with one single approach, and many companies have taken significant efforts to narrow this gap with varying degrees of success. But there is still work to be done. Is anyone really right when it comes to the question of why equal representation of genders and belief systems within a business group is beneficial?
It turns out that preliminary research conducted in 2011 from professors at MIT and Carnegie Melon University suggests that groups have a higher overall intelligence when their proportion of women is higher. This doesn’t mean that women are smarter than men or vice versa. It means that a group tends to make better decisions when its solutions to problems represent the collective ideas and thought processes of a balanced group of individuals.
Sales organizations that find themselves with a large quantity of men relative to women could be missing out on a huge opportunity to capitalize on the benefits of equal representation in decision making.
In a 2007 report from Catalyst, an organization whose mission is to expand opportunities for women in business, surveyors found that organizations with the highest numbers of female board members outperformed those with the lowest by 42% among Fortune 500 companies. Other reports conducted internationally have shown that companies with a higher percentage of women board members (in the UK) had significantly better share price performance than those with less than 20% female representation. This doesn’t mean that men aren’t capable of running profitable companies—it means that increased diversity among leadership correlates with stronger profits.
Although it’s impossible to put every single man and woman into a specific mold when it comes to business approaches, some studies have shown that women tend to approach the sales process differently than men. Successful salespeople possess a shared core of personality traits that make them stand out, but men and women have different filters and biases that make them unique, and may spend different amounts of time on things like cultivating customer relationships and aggressively pursuing new clients.
Female sales professionals are also adept at accurately assessing the risk of a new sales venture because of their tendency to move slowly when making a large power play. In the book “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing,” authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain that this understanding of risk can keep companies from gambling big when it might permanently affect the stability of an organization. This tendency towards slow change can be hugely beneficial, especially when working with long-term clients who are not comfortable with large, quick changes.
Maximize the Benefits of Female Sales Professionals
Women can be good for the bottom line in any sales industry. But, what are the changes that need to be made in order to get them in the positions where they will be most beneficial to your company? Here are some quick ideas on how to make sales a more female-friendly industry.
- Mentoring and Support
Because there are so few female sales professionals, mentoring is one of the most vital parts of their onboarding and continual development. If you don’t have many female sales professionals to assist as mentees, consider collaborating with other industries or even competitors to allow your female staff a support group of women who can help them overcome the challenges they face in a traditionally male-dominated discipline.
- Set the Bar High – For Everyone
Independent researchers at both Wharton and University of Kansas found that women in sales were verbally praised more (or criticized less) in proportion to the lowering of sales standards. In order to counteract this phenomena, don’t pawn “easy” accounts off to female sales pros. Instead, hold them to the same high standards – in word and deed – as their male counterparts. (Eden B. King, et al., “Benevolent Sexism at Work: Gender Differences in the Distribution of Challenging Developmental Experiences,” Journal of Management)
- Let Them Play the Long Game
Because research shows that women are prone towards risk-averse behavior and community building, maximize those strengths by allowing them more time to close deals. Remember, their strength lies in recognizing the long-term impacts of small choices. Give them the opportunity to connect with and build relationships with high-revenue customers. That “long game” attitude can easily turn a one-time deal into a lucrative partnership.
What Do You Think?
How have you seen the roles of women in sales change over the last decade? Are there ways that the sales industry can be designed to be more attractive to female sales professionals? Share your ideas with us in the comments.