How to Get More Women into Sales…and Make It Easier to Hire Them Too

September 11, 2019

Women have many innate qualities that make them great for sales roles.

And as a woman who’s been in sales for over 20 years, I’m happy to see startups embracing this and making a conscious effort to get more of us on their teams.

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that many of the startups that approach me to help them recruit women for their sales teams have usually struggled to do so previously.

Typically for one of two reasons:

  1. They can’t find any
  2. They’re having trouble attracting them

Speaking from personal experience, reason #1 is typically caused by reason #2.

The truth is, most sales cultures are still not very attractive to women. A survey that John Barrows did just last year confirmed that the “bro culture” in sales is still alive and well.

And the worst part is, most leadership teams still don’t realize this is the case (again, confirmed by the survey).

Let me be clear – this article isn’t about bashing men in sales. There are so many good men in this profession, many of whom have had a big impact on my career.

Rather, it’s about calling out the subtle ways women are still told that this isn’t a profession for them (not true!)… and ultimately making it easier on yourself to hire them.

Here’s how to make your sales team more attractive to women and get more of us into the profession simultaneously.

1. Create a safe environment for women to speak up.

“I often get called “PC” as an insult for speaking up when I hear sexist comments. So far it has not been dealt with and I feel isolated.” – Female respondent from John Barrow’s survey

Nothing is more toxic to your employees than having them feel like their voice doesn’t matter. And this happens to women in sales all the time!

Whether it’s not being taken seriously when speaking up about harassment or simply being being talked over or dismissed, it’s far too common for women to be told things like:

  1. Oh you’re being too sensitive. Lighten up.”
  2. “He meant it as a compliment. You just took it the wrong way.”
  3. “Whoa! No need to get so emotional.”

That’s why one of the most important things anyone in leadership can do to create a sales culture women want to be part of is to ensure that your female teammates’ voices are heard just like your male teammates.

And in the case of harassment or sexism, that you act on what you hear.

Whether it’s a bad customer who is harassing your team members (male or female for that matter) or a toxic team member doing it, it’s critical that you treat this with a zero tolerance policy.

Take care of your people first and they’ll take care of you.

2. Be mindful of how you communicate.

“I had the challenge of not being ‘bro enough’ to the point that there was a rumor that I was gay…which I found out about months later. It’s 2018, this shouldn’t be happening.”   – Male respondent from John Barrow’s survey

Because sales has traditionally been male dominated, there is a tendency to speak “bro” to each other all the time.

Speaking from personal experience, this is an incredibly big turnoff for women (and as you can see from the quote above, for many men too).

Simply put, be mindful of the language you use and how you communicate. Leave the bro talk for trips with the boys – it doesn’t do anything to build an inclusive culture on your sales team.

3. Eliminate double standards.

“I had a new male boss that once hired, decided that out of my team of 15 with (2 women/13 men) that the only 2 that needed to be fired were the women. He said they were weak and couldn’t handle the pressure. I pointed out the fact that he was measuring the women differently. I said it to him and other leaders. He had a history of removing women and everyone knew it. But nobody did anything. I left and helped the other two women find different jobs.” – Female respondent from John Barrow’s survey

Many of the challenges women face in sales today come from double standards that exist.

Things like:

    • Being judged differently for the same communication/leadership styles
    • Having to prove themselves twice as much for the same result
    • Being passed over for a promotion because they’re not “one of the boys”

    These are toxic and far too common. And they create a situation where women would rather choose a different profession altogether.

    Why work in a place where the odds are stacked against you succeeding from the beginning?

    4. Ensure you always promote on results.

    “Frequently I am told I have the skills, personality, and history of success. Yet when it comes to advancement and feedback on why it is stalling I get reasons ranging from ‘he had more energy and stays late’ to ‘maybe try wearing glasses to look more knowledgeable.’” – Female respondent from John Barrow’s survey

    Statistically speaking, women close 11% more deals than men do.

    But yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in sales earn just 67.7% of what men do.

    I’ve experienced this first hand in my own career when I was told that I was “making too much for my age and demographic” even though I owned 60% of the company’s revenue.

    Needless to say, there’s not really much of an incentive for women to stick with the profession if their chance for a strong upside is capped unfairly.

    After all, that’s a big part of why we all get into sales isn’t it?

    It’s why one of the absolute most important things you can do is to ensure you always reward on results first, regardless of gender (or race, or anything else).

    Final thoughts.

    I’m elated that so many startups approach me these days with a desire to hire women for sales roles. This is a huge step in the right direction!

    However, we still have a long way to go in creating the kind of culture where women want to work. And that’s the goal here – to shed some light on the subtle ways that women are still told sales isn’t a place for them.

    Awareness is the first step!

Founder and CEO of Avenue Talent Partners

With more than $100MM in revenue sold, a LinkedIn Insider and Top Sales Voice, Founder, Strategic Advisor, and LP at Stage 2 Capital, Amy Volas is a sales fanatic turned entrepreneur. She was bitten by the startup bug many moons ago and couldn't imagine spending her time anywhere else. She created Avenue Talent Partners to help grow early-stage startups through some of their most valuable assets - executive revenue leaders.