• March 1, 2021
  • By Erik J. Martin, freelance writer and public relations expert

To Boost Profits, Hire and Promote Female Sellers

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Companies can see profits increase nearly 50 percent when women are well represented in upper management, Forrester Research found recently.

The problem is, women constitute only one-third of B2B sellers; at the uppermost levels of sales leadership, the numbers are even lower, with women occupying only 12 percent of these positions.

The conclusion is based on the fact that nearly four in five female B2B sales professionals meet or exceed sales targets compared to just 63 percent of male counterparts, per Forrester’s Q4 2020 Global Women in Sales Survey. Additionally, sales teams led by women outperformed male-led teams by 3 percent when evaluating quota attainment and win rates.

The research also found that underrepresentation of women on sales teams and in upper management matters to clients and partners. More than half of B2B sales leaders polled by Forrester in early 2020 expected buying committees to look at their employers’ commitment to diversity and inclusion when deciding on a prospective partnership. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they consider diversity when making purchases.

Mary Shea, a principal analyst at Forrester and a lead author of this research, says these findings demonstrate that women face a myriad of challenges—including confidence issues, reluctance by males to mentor women, and hiring processes that are tuned to men—when beginning their sales careers.

“What we also found is that, for the women who do make it to the highest echelons of sales leadership [in chief revenue officer and chief sales officer roles], the work landscape is still full of these gendered obstacles that don’t just go away because they are in leadership,” Shea says. “When we compared experiences among sales leaders, 27 percent of women leaders reported being treated differently because of their gender, while none of the male leaders reported experiencing those same biases.”

Shea notes that, in interviews with several women sales leaders, these biases manifested in different ways: from pay inequity despite equal or better results to exclusion from decision-making that happens outside of the traditional office setting.

“All isn’t solved once you have broken that glass ceiling. Nowadays, people describe the proverbial glass ceiling as a labyrinth because of all the unexpected turns and obstacles that continue to surface,” she adds.

Another surprising finding from the study: 42 percent of female sales professionals did not believe women received equal treatment during promotion and raise conversations at their companies, versus 23 percent of male sales professionals.

“Men in the sales workplace severely underestimate the magnitude of gender bias in their organizations,” Shea says. “If the gap is ever going to close, men need to understand it, believe it exists, and then do the work with their female counterparts to close it.”

To improve matters, organizations need to seriously evaluate and make hiring practices more inclusive, provide more transparency around promotion and raise processes, and update family leave policies.

“And since men make up the majority of sales leadership roles, it’s important that they advocate and sponsor up-and-coming female sales professionals who don’t necessarily fit the historical profile,” Shea recommends.

Company leadership also needs to explicitly signal a commitment to gender representation.

“Hiring procedures need to be evaluated and, if necessary, revamped. Companies must ensure they have good female representation at the board and executive team level, use inclusive language in job descriptions, and seek more creative ways to source sales talent,” Shea continues. “Businesses can also embrace a flexible work model and build a culture that evaluates accomplishments on merit versus face time.”

Lastly, when it comes to compensation, employers should be as transparent as possible, according to Shea.

“Boards must get their leaders to commit to addressing gender pay by assessing existing policies and putting in place metrics to close pay gaps,” she says

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