7 Ways to Get More Women in the Sales Profession (and Keep Them)

Gender diversity is making headlines these days, as the spotlight shines on the treatment and representation of women in one industry after another.

While the issue may seem complicated, the outcome is simple: (1) Companies who recognize the importance of diversity and promote it actively are the inevitable winners in this equation. (2) Those who are unwilling to take an active stance on gender equality will suffer economic consequences.

So why is the sales profession still so far behind the curve when it comes to gender?

The stats are self-evident. In sales, women make up:

woman in sales carolyn murray

  • 25% of salespeople in tech companies
  • 12% of sales leadership

I sell to salespeople, so I checked those numbers against my own: Of the salespeople I’ve sold to, just 17% are women.

I wish I could say this is shocking, but it’s not. We’re well aware of this issue. We dissect it often in an attempt to diagnose, and yet our conclusion falls short every time: “We just don’t have enough female applicants.”

My opinion? That’s a cop out.

Most companies agree that a diverse workforce leads to more positive outcomes – in terms of revenue, employee satisfaction, or any other measure. Gender, ethnicity, age, and other demographic differences produce a keener, more diverse perspective.

Studies repeatedly show that gender-diversity in sales is a money-maker for companies – to the tune of 15x higher average sales revenue:

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

And yet, women are vastly underrepresented in the sales industry.

Products don’t sell themselves – and neither do jobs.

 

My advice to companies trying to attract more women in sales?

Try harder.

We’re just not working hard enough to hit our numbers.

Here are 7 simple ways to get more women in the door, and make sure they want to stay – using the lens of the Buyer’s Journey.

Buyer's journey

Read it: Sales is the Great Equalizer: A Woman in Sales Success story

Awareness: The sales pitch to young girls

If one’s career search is like the Buyer’s Journey, it begins with awareness.

1. Portray sales as a legitimate profession

“When I grow up, I want to be a saleswoman!” … said no kid, ever.Danny Diveto Mathilda

If you asked me what I thought sales was like at age 13, I’d point you to the scene in Matilda where a greasy Danny Devito rolls back the odometers on cars to take advantage of his customers. Sales wasn’t sexy, it was skeezy. And it certainly didn’t speak to me as a teenage girl.

The problem is, it should have.

I was always driven by success in numbers — points scored, dollars earned, miles traveled — not to mention I spent my entire teenage existence on the phone. I was practically priming myself for the dialing days. I just didn’t know it.

Unfortunately the sales profession is treated with disdain, and salespeople are often dehumanized, in media and popular culture.

This widespread portrayal is not just inaccurate and unfair – it discourages fantastic would-be salespeople, male and female alike. This portrayal of the sales profession particularly affects children and young adults, who are more likely to absorb these notions in their early years.

SalesPop sums up:

Salesforce integration broad compatibility“Other professions generally have long ago realized their value to society and the culture.

“A nurse working through the night in an ER knows he or she is helping people. A police officer taking criminals off the streets knows the contribution they are making to society. Even the accountant, in slightly less dramatic fashion, knows that when they balance the books they are performing a valuable service.

“So in addition to the high degree of rejection a salesperson experiences, they are also greatly undervalued, with their true worth to the culture rarely, if ever, pointed out and celebrated.”

We have to change the way that sales is pitched to women at a young age.

2. Offer clear, specific encouragement to girls

We’re talking about a male-dominated industry. If you’re going to empower any minority – women or otherwise – to break the mold, it’ll take a little 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 that!” goes a long way as a kid.

It still does. Tell your daughters, your nieces, your sisters, your friends, that their confidence would make them a great salesperson. I promise you, that $h^% works.

3. Pitch, please.

For the love of money, if you want more women on your sales team but you have have only a few, pitch it well – and consider the external factors.

If this is your excuse, I’m not buying it: “We haven’t been able to hire women because our female applicants see a team of men – and they don’t want to join.”

We’re in an age of revolution for gender equality, and with that comes a desire to blaze trails. Young women want to take the path less traveled, and they’ll go out of their way to fight cultural norms. They want more than ever to be more successful than their peers. (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!)

Try harder.

Consideration

Let’s move down the sales cycle. Your potential candidates (buyers) are now actively seeking jobs and considering options. Perhaps they’re fresh out of college, or unhappily employed — or maybe you’re looking to poach top talent. How can you attract women?

4. Poach female sales talent

Other industries tend to be much higher in female-to-male ratios (think recruitment or retail sales, etc.); you can use the numbers to your favor.

Jobs like retail and recruitment tend to pay less, while this pool of employees already has strong sales skills and ample experience.

Take a page from the tech industry and poach these experienced female employees. Sales offers an enviable income and a lot more opportunity for career advancement – it shouldn’t be a hard sell.

Read it: How to Start a Conversation Using the “Foot-in-the-Door” Email Template

5. Partner with colleges and universities – and be strategic

Women have outnumbered men in college enrollment since the 1970’s. However, speaking from personal experience, you’ll find far fewer women at career fairs and in business fraternities than you will in the lecture hall.

Instead, develop relationships with the career center, with professors, with alumni – these people have more insight into your candidates’ work ethic and experience, and they can connect you with a more diverse crowd who might not have otherwise been on the radar.

6. Choose your packaging wisely

When prospecting to college grads – which is a great pool for sourcing women – you have to consider how your product is packaged.

I’ll be the first to admit that my job search as a 22 year-old very closely resembled how I chose wine as a 22 year-old: I was label shopping. I was never taught how to weed out illegitimate opportunities, and so I based my assumptions about companies on their brand image.

Your logo matters, your job posting matters, your internet presence matters, and your Glassdoor reviews matter. (And no, we don’t need ping pong tables or kombucha and beer on tap.)

Sell an environment where hard work is rewarded, mentorship is encouraged, and diversity creates success.

7. Reevaluate your requirements

Men apply when they meet 60% of job qualifications; women don’t apply until they’ve met 100% of them. If your job qualification of 5 years of full sales cycle experience isn’t an actual requirement, change it. Consider what kind of candidates you’re discouraging.

Get our free ebook: Why Didn’t They Buy: A Deep-Dive into Buyer Preferences

Decision

You’re not done yet: Retaining women is a whole different ball game.

8. Reward sales performance equally

women in sales vs. men in salesWomen are less likely to nominate themselves for promotions, raises, and advancements.

This hinders upward movement – and ultimately, retention. Similarly to how we tend to only apply to jobs when we meet all the requirements, women also tend to wait on “checking all the boxes” prior to asking for a raise or promotion, even in the event of exceptional performance.

Put an official system in place for recognition and promotion, if you don’t already have one, and check the language in your internal job postings for bias.

If many of the stats around female representation are irritating, this one is infuriating:

Investors preferred entrepreneurial ventures pitched by a man than an identical pitch from a woman by a rate of 68% to 32% in a study conducted jointly by HBS, Wharton, and MIT Sloan. Male-rated pitches were rated as more pervasive, 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% 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, 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: Is your Buyer’s Journey – from job description, to application process, to hiring, to promotion – truly inclusive of professional men and women alike?

If you think you’re trying hard enough to get more women in your sales organization … try harder. Set a quota. Exceed it. After all, that’s what sales rockstars do.

 

Take a deep dive into buyer preferences - and the implications for salespeople.Download the Full Buyer Persona Study
Carolyn Murray

Carolyn Murray started at DiscoverOrg as a Sales Development Rep, and quickly became the company's first female ..read more

  • Melissa Warner

    Spot on!

  • Jessica

    I believe man or women only limit themselves for an opportunity if they believe statistics like the ones in the beginning of the article. Top 5 sales reps at my company are all women 😉

  • Jennifer Galvez

    Perfect read!

  • andy

    Good Stuff!

  • Traci Emerson

    I am the lone female member of a 25+ member sales organization. As a hiring manager I’m always looking to bring diversity of all kinds to the team. I agree that we need to start early.

  • Alicia Busse

    I haven’t really seen any companies specifically look for female talent. I know the company I work for is actively pursuing qualified women and women of color to fill our upcoming sales roles by getting recommendations from current staff and it’s awesome!

  • Lindsay Lewis

    Frequently, there is a lack of female mentors willing to put time in as well as a lack of female mentors. I think that pairing up our female sales staff with strong women within the company has led to higher retention and success. One of the major ways as well, is to shift your culture away from the bro culture. Sales still seems like an old boys club at times, and that change has to occur from the top down instead of allowing those with old-school thinking to continue leading by that example.

  • Adam Metz

    My biggest issue here in the startup sales space is that there seems to be strong bias in VC/PE pitches against female founders, even when they have the correct background (Ivy league, FANG, etc.). I “grew up” in sales on a team that was largely 60/40 male/female (Fortune 500 with a very big sales team), so I think I had a better formative experience than most, including some solid female sales leaders, but there is still such a long way to go in tech.

  • Rob Oram

    I’ve noticed a huge lack of females in the past two companies i was at – both large companies that didn’t promote diversity. before that i worked for a company that promoted diversity and there was an equal split of men and women.

  • Kristen

    I haven’t really seen companies I’ve been with specifically look for female talent. They just look for talent and it usually ends up being a male hired. I think sales has been a male dominated department for so long that it may be intimidating for females, but I don’t have any statistics to back that up.