The sales industry is arguably one of the largest, most competitive fields in the professional game. This competitiveness can certainly have an influence on an individual’s determination to succeed when driven by factors such as commission, recognition from co-workers and workplace executives, and even one’s own gratification.
Whatever the incentive may be to close sales deals, becoming successful in sales is difficult in itself and can be extremely demanding. Being in sales, however, can be even more challenging for women than it is for their male colleagues; and not because women are any less qualified.
What Is the Current Environment for Women in Sales
In a 2017 study conducted by Gartner (formerly CEB), it was found that the sales sector has the second-largest gender pay inequality in the United States, as only 19% of leadership roles in sales are filled by women. The same study also found that companies who have more diversity and inclusion in the workplace actually outperform their counterparts. If there is evidence for development and growth, why are there still so many disparities between men and women in sales?
The first and most obvious reason is the preconceived workplace biases against women. In a Lucidchart study of just over 500 sales professionals, the two most prevalent biases women experience are 1. Underestimating their knowledge and 2. Being seen as too weak. Studies show quite the opposite of these workplace biases in that women actually close deals 11% more often than men do. Additionally, women stay in sales roles longer than men do, yet women are paid significantly (about $0.20 to the dollar) less than men.
The same study from Lucidchart found that men made 58% more than women on average when it comes to commission, with women earning 23% less than men when combining salary and commission. Could this commission gap be due to the fact that women are less likely than men to negotiate their pay compensation? Statistics say no. On average, women are only about 6% less likely than men to negotiate their salary and commission rates.
While this may play a small role in gender pay inequality, studies show that the underlying problem here is workplace bias and therefore lack of growth opportunities for women. A study from the Lean In foundation found that only one in 10 senior executives is female; 50% of men say that’s good enough.
Despite the reality of women in sales, they bring excellent sales skills to the table, especially when it comes to social selling, listening to customers’ ever changing needs, relating to their pain points, and building meaningful relationships. Buyers expect this customized approach and ultimately want to feel more in control of the sales process. So what can your team do to create a more welcoming environment for women in sales?
Steps to Fix Gender Pay Inequality
Ask yourself if your current practices are equitable: To solve a problem, you first must recognize that one exists. Ask yourself, does my team honestly put diversity and inclusion at the forefront of its operations? For The Selling Factory, it became evident that men were much more likely than women to take on cold calling positions compared to women (about 75% men and 25% women).
Conduct an audit of your team demographics: To further investigate this pattern, you should take an in-depth “look under the hood” and conduct an audit of your team’s diversity and pay rates. At TSF, cold calling roles offered higher pay per hour compared to data collection and research roles, which put men (on average) at earning a dollar more per hour than women.
Fix the inequity found in the audit: Based on the insights found in the audit, you should implement methods that create equitable opportunities for employees to thrive in their roles. To move away from the gender pay inequality, The Selling Factory implemented a new payroll system in which pay was based on how long you’ve worked for the company, not your role on a particular campaign.
Hire more intentionally: Your sales team should not only make an effort to eliminate the gender pay inequity, but also make our sales teams more diverse. Rather than referring friends or contacts for interviews, applications for your sales team should be available online in many different spaces with the goal of creating more diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Last year, The Selling Factory was composed of 63% males and 37% females, whereas today the sales team is made up of 61% women and 39% men. One key factor in this change was tapping into different spaces and refining the hiring process.
Creating Safe and Inclusive Sales Environments
After nearly two years in the sales industry, I’m pleased to say that I have borne witness to some important changes in my own workplace. These changes were meant to improve the work experience for women in sales and improve functions for overall development and growth. Most importantly, such a change was only able to be accomplished after taking an in-depth look at the make-up of our sales team through audits, and our executives being honest enough with themselves to spot the problems.
While this conversion is heavily focused on the inequities of men and women, it would be remiss to not acknowledge the absolute gender binary that society promotes. Recognizing the fluidity of gender will help create an environment for employees that awards based on individual strengths rather than biases. This understanding can not only allow your employees to feel safer and better understood, but also remove the gender inequities that exist in the workplace.
Changes like these are pertinent to creating a safe workspace where everyone feels included and has their voices heard. To anyone in sales (or any field of work for that matter), I ask you this: What has your company done to ensure that there is diversity and inclusion in the workplace? How are these methods at the forefront of your business’s development and growth? Asking yourself these questions may be difficult, and you may not like the answer, but it must be done.