Reversal of the Sales Gender Gap?
If you haven’t checked out Lauren Carlson’s blog, I would recommend it. Lauren is a CRM software analyst with Software Advice, in Austin, TX.
In conversation with Lauren about Women’s History Month, we got into talking about the way women can sabotage their success when it comes to sales. I thought it was important to recognize that these behaviors aren’t exclusive to women, but common traits amongst core and lower performers, regardless of sex. So yes women make these mistakes, and so do men.
- Being afraid of self promotion
- Undervaluing yourself and your service
- Not asking for directions
- Making relationships the priority
- Being afraid of making a mistake
Lauren received great insight from some of sales most successful women; Jill Konrath, Kim Duke and Kristine Scotto. They offer very solid and specific advice on how to overcome these behavioral traps.
Lauren’s article was based on an HBR article citing a lack of confidence amongst women with regards to their careers so I wanted to better understand the root of those generalized feelings. The most common theme cited is the fact that men outnumber women in senior management positions. Research from a 2011 Grant Thornton International Business Report revealed that women hold only 20% of senior management positions globally, down from 24% in 2009, but still trending up in the long term. Of the companies that employ women in senior managerial positions globally, only 8% of them employ them as a Sales Director or Marketing Director, compared with 22% in financial positions(CFO/Finance Director) and 20% as a Human Resource Director. What’s debatable here is whether women are choosing this route, or they are being influenced out of roles in sales. I would appreciate your open commentary on that one. Would the lack of women in management positions effect confidence levels?
Here’s why it shouldn’t
Globally, its accepted that a formal education is the route to create better socioeconomic opportunities, and it is also major influence on confidence levels. In 2006 the National Bureau of economic research released a report on The Reversal of the College Gender Gap in the United States. What’s striking is that it wasn’t an elimination of the college gender gap, but a reversal. Compared with 1.6 males for every female graduating from a four-year University in 1960, 1.35 females graduated for every male in 2003. The study points out that until the late 1960’s women chose to pursue degrees that led them into traditionally female dominated occupations such as education and English. It wasn’t until the mid-1970’s that women in general became more career oriented with those degrees. I think it’s only a matter of time before these numbers naturally accelerate into more women holding senior managerial positions. Women have already demonstrated their dominance in education as shown by the relative college graduation rates. Of course there are other more complicated factors that come into play such as family dynamics and a continued perception problem, not only by men, but also expectations of oneself. It is important that male, or female, you should be able to pursue the career of your choice with a little bit of confidence.
Lauren mentions the popular relationship dilemma facing many sales reps. In today’s business climate it doesn’t matter if you’re a male or female, that strategy isn’t going to work. A relationship is the reward for helping your prospect solve a business pain; it isn’t the reason they buy. Not asking for direction is another big challenge and it is actually one of the biggest secrets of top performers. They don’t want to be given a fish, they want to be taught how to fish. Ask somebody to help you with your sales process! Research continues to show that high performers simply don’t believe they are confined by a skillset. You can learn the skills to become better at selling. From a business perspective, I have noticed about an equal number of men as women who were seeking out our tools and process to give their sales teams a competitive advantage within the last year. I think that number speaks volumes for the ever growing presence of women in sales, as well as displaying traits characteristic of being a top performer. I can’t help but notice that when you seek out help for your sales organization, all the traits of a top performer are emphasized:
- Actionable self-promotion
- Valuing your ability to challenge current operations, and believing your people can do it
- Asking for direction
- Making success a priority
- Admitting what you’re doing isn’t working/taking a risk that you have picked the right help for your organization
What’s great is focusing on a process creates a set of traits that makes you more marketable in the future and more deserving of those promotions. I love hearing stories about sales reps who land their next job by talking about the success they have had with our process.
With studies that generalize behavior as male or female, there is bound to be backlash citing specific examples that refute the general claim. The goal of this article is not to confine anyone to a set of traits, but to increase awareness and emotional intelligence so you can learn to recognize and improve the behavior when you see it. A global generalization for example, is most likely not specific to you or your organizations behavior. The one question that remains…When will we see the reversal of the sales gender gap?