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How to Win the Talent War: Women in Sales

The war for top-performing sales talent has begun. By 2026, the number of open sales positions is projected to grow by more than 3 percent, putting the pressure on sales leaders and HR teams to attract top talent. In fact, according to CEB, now Gartner, sales leaders across the globe report sourcing quality sales professionals as a top challenge and priority for 2018.

Yet, while the fight for talent is fierce, many companies are inadvertently ignoring or discouraging half of the workforce: women.

Despite the urgency to find strong candidates to fill open positions, women are underrepresented in all levels of sales, with women holding just one in four mid-level sales manager roles, and only one in five sales leadership positions. The percentage of women in frontline sales management has remained flat for more than 10 years.

women in sales

Furthermore, women in sales face one of the largest gender equity gaps of all corporate functions, with women earning only 62.2 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

Women Outperform

According to analysis from Xactly Insights, the lack of women in sales and the gender equity gap isn’t a result of underperformance. In fact, the results showed that women equal or outperform men in several areas:

  • Women achieve equal or higher quota attainment than men.Women achieve 70 percent quota attainment on average – higher than men, who achieve 67 percent on average.
  • Women stay in their roles longer. Women typically stay in their jobs for one year longer than men, leading to lower company attrition costs.
  • Women build more diverse teams. On average, female-led teams are 50 percent female and 50 percent male, while male-led teams are typically only 25 percent female.

Perhaps the most startling finding is that just 50 percent of female sales professionals believe they have the same opportunities for advancement as their male counterparts, despite having the same skills, experience and qualifications. When asked the same question, 91 percent of men believe women are given access to the same opportunities.

Women are underrepresented, underpaid and feel that they have less opportunities than men in sales, which fuels a vicious cycle for the profession. It’s no wonder that companies aren’t able to attract and retain top talent – what part of this equation would be attractive to women?

The lack of parity in sales is not only a fairness issue, it’s a business issue. CEB found that companies with a high level of gender diversity more than doubled their annual revenue compared to their average gender diverse competitors.

Strategies for Gender Diversity

Without a strong and diverse sales team, great products and wonderful ideas won’t make it to prospects, and prospects won’t turn into customers. Sales leaders, all looking for a competitive edge, may be overlooking one blindingly obvious area of potential advantage – more women in sales.  

Forward-thinking sales organizations are making gender diversity a top priority. To increase gender diversity and win the war on talent, companies should:

Lead from the top. In order to attract, engage, and retain women, senior leadership needs to ensure top-down commitment to gender diversity in the organization. There are two key components to doing this well:

  1. As a senior leader at the company, make your opinions on improving gender diversity extremely visible (i.e. national sales meetings, town halls, etc.).
  2. Develop a strong case backed by data for why this is so critical to your business and enlist senior support.

Champion pay transparency. In today’s information age, organizations face increasing pressure to provide greater pay transparency to ensure that each workforce segment is paid fairly for similar performance. Employers cannot afford to fight for secrecy. Instead, confront gender-based pay discrimination with more rational salary structures, which can make organizations more attractive to women, customers and partners.

Seek input and feedback. Ensure you have a process in place to gather and act on candid feedback on company culture from top-performing female leaders. Sales candidates seeking employment at a supportive and diverse company may be weary by one with a high turnover rate, particularly for women.  

Cristina Gomez is sales practice leader at CEB, now Gartner Inc, the world's leading research and advisory company.

Source: https://salesandmarketing.com


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