Prioritizing diverse perspectives
17th May 2018 | Allen Mueller
Here’s how both women and men can help sales organizations achieve gender equality to build success.
Most industry outsiders I encounter view our industry as a corporate boys’ club. It’s a common misperception that sales has a shortage of women. In fact, the sales industry as a whole is almost evenly split on gender lines, with women making up 49 percent of the sales workforce.1
Unfortunately, gender parity still doesn’t exist in leadership positions. Research shows that as salespeople ascend in seniority, the number of women in leadership positions decreases. LinkedIn found only 21 percent of female sales professionals hold a title of vice president.2 That’s even lower than the 26 percent of female vice presidents across all professional functions.
As a female C-suite executive who built her career in sales, I’ve seen a variety of cultures. I’ve worked in male-dominated, stereotypically macho sales cultures, where women worked primarily in account management and men sold. But I’ve also worked for companies like Miller Heiman Group (my current employer) where hard work and honest communication create safe spaces for women to succeed as leaders.
In the era of #MeToo, all industries – from Hollywood to tech to sales – must create workplace cultures that treat all employees with respect and fairness, regardless of gender.
In the era of #MeToo, all industries – from Hollywood to tech to sales – must create workplace cultures that treat all employees with respect and fairness, regardless of gender. With that in mind, I’ll share a few lessons I’ve learned to help women gain equal footing and advance in a traditionally masculine industry:
Resist the temptation to compare yourself to others (easier said than done). Performance counts, but don’t let stack rankings distract you. Instead, focus on how you help your company and your clients succeed. If you do good work, the performance will follow.
Early in my career, I worked in a male-dominated company. In an effort to be heard, I overcompensated and sometimes acted more aggressively than was necessary. In hindsight, I realize my talent and hard work were more than enough to demonstrate my worth.
Don’t shy away from self-promotion.
Fewer than half of women feel comfortable promoting their achievements in the workplace.3 In my experience, women avoid self-promotion because they don’t want to be perceived as bragging about their individual accomplishments. But self-promotion isn’t a negative trait – it’s a key to success in the workplace.
If it helps, think about self-promotion as increasing your visibility. Your colleagues won’t notice the scope of your contributions unless you provide them the information. When your colleagues and superiors see your achievements, they’ll celebrate them, setting you up to make even larger contributions as you advance in your career.
Responsibility for an equitable sales culture shouldn’t fall on women alone. For my male colleagues, here’s how you can play a part in creating a more positive and equitable work culture.
Challenge your stereotypes and biases.
Stereotypes and misconceptions create barriers for women. Many leaders cling to the idea that the most effective selling happens on the golf course or in a sports club over a cigar. This misguided notion that women can’t sell in these types of environments holds women back.
While deals do in fact often materialize in such settings, what truly drives successful deals is both hard work and the collaborative efforts to provide real value to customers. By challenging your own stereotypes and biases, you help create opportunities for women and improve performance by encouraging this collaboration.
Prioritize open, honest and frequent communication.
I’ve worked for good leaders who made it easy to be honest about my accomplishments and vulnerable about my weaknesses. Environments that value clear, frequent communication support both men and women – and it starts at the top.
In my current position, my colleagues live and work across the country. Our geographic diversity forces us to nurture a culture of constant communication. Establishing clear channels of communication lays the groundwork for a company culture that enables both female and male leaders to thrive.
The sales industry is changing. Going forward, the most successful organizations will prioritize diverse perspectives. These organizations are already more financially successful than their competitors4 – and the gap will only widen as more companies support and encourage women to serve in leadership roles.
1 Matt Rocheleau, “Chart: The percentage of women and men in each profession”, Boston Globe, 7 March, 2017, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/03/06/chart-the-percentage-women-and-men-each-profession/GBX22YsWl0XaeHghwXfE4H/story.html.
2 Alex Hisaka, “Trends of Women in Sales Infographic”, LinkedIn Sales Blog, 24 June 2014, https://business.linkedin.com/sales-solutions/blog/t/trends-of-women-in-sales-infographic.
3 Bek Frith, “Only 42% of women feel able to self-promote”, HR magazine, 30 March 2016, http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/article-details/only-42-of-women-feel-able-to-self-promote.
4 Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton and Sara Prince, “Why diversity matters”, Mckinsey.com, January 2015, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters.