Women may be increasingly present in sales, but they’re underrepresented in leadership positions relative to their overall presence. According to analysis from LinkedIn, while women hold 47% of entry-level sales positions, yet only 21% of sales VPs are women. In some industries, it’s even lower.
The paucity of women in leadership positions nevertheless has a demonstrable effect on sales. Research suggests that when women make up a higher proportion of executive leadership, companies perform better. A company that doesn’t have women represented in sales leadership is less capable of executing a successful strategy that reaches both men and women buyers.
However, organizations can take concrete steps to develop, recruit, and retain women in sales leadership positions:
1. Attend networking events for women in sales.
Word of mouth remains one of the most powerful tools for recruitment. To attract women candidates across roles, sales leaders should make a point to attend conferences and networking events for women in sales. Try to attend consistently so that you can demonstrate your company’s genuine interest in cultivating women leaders. Once you become a familiar presence at events, you establish trust.
Let attendees know about the opportunities available at your organization. But you should also be participating in events beyond simply recruiting for your company. Answer questions and volunteer expertise as appropriate.
2. Ensure that promotion, raises and awards are based on merit.
Women are oftentimes less likely to ask for promotions or bonuses than men. That can easily result in women earning significantly less than men, even if their actual sales contributions are similar or greater.
You can avoid this problem by implementing a clear, objective system for awarding promotions and bonuses to all members of the team when they reach certain milestones. This helps ensure top-performing women will stay at your company without having to go through the oftentimes fraught process of asking for a raise or promotion.
3. Create strong parental leave policies.
More and more companies are implanting maternity and paternity policies that go well beyond legal requirements. Paid parental leave is becoming a standard benefit for startups. These organizations recognize that strong parental leave policies (including adoptive parents) are critical for recruiting and retaining talented women.
Many professional women believe that choosing to have children will set them back professionally and financially. A strong parental leave policy, in addition to offering practical benefits, sends the signal that children need not impede women’s professional advancement.
4. Consider implementing policies that support remote work or flexible work arrangements.
Providing more flexible work options is also a great tactic for recruiting and retaining women. Even offering employees the option to work from home one or two days a week can make a big difference for parents and others.
Not all women will want or need flex time but merely offering it shows that you value employees and their ability to manage both professional and family responsibilities.
5. Don’t make job descriptions a running list of “must haves”.
Evidence suggests that most women won’t apply for a job unless they meet 100% of job requirements. Men, in contrast, will apply for a job if they meet around 60% of the listed requirements. This indicates many women believe they must meet all the requirements to meet a job.
To prevent talented women from self-selecting out of your applicant pool, be more judicious in listing requirements. This is especially critical for leadership positions that have more requirements. Demonstrate flexibility in your language. So instead of saying “five years of managerial experience is required,” change it to “approximately three to five years of experience.”
6. Think more critically about the language you use in job descriptions and in characterizing sales culture at your company.
Sales job descriptions often include words like “hunting” and “aggressive personality.” This may be putting off many women, if only on a subconscious level. It’s also not an accurate representation of today’s enterprise sales process, which is far more likely to emphasize collaboration and relationship-building.
Scrutinize all of your job postings and hiring materials for language that seems overly masculine. Make a point of mentioning skills such as communication, empathy, and teamwork along with other sales skills.
7. Ask women at your company what can be done to better support them.
There may be small (and not-so-small things) about your workplace that is making work more difficult for women sales professionals. To learn more about how you might improve, ask women to provide honest feedback. Some women may be more comfortable giving their thoughts in an anonymous survey, though focused discussion groups may also be helpful.
After you ask for feedback, do your best to implement real changes that show women that their concerns are being taken seriously. Small gestures can be very meaningful.
8. Ensure that social outings are inclusive.
Make sure that all team social outings are accessible to both men and women. Try to plan a variety of events so that you can appeal to your team’s diverse interests. For example, you might plan a group outing to a Broadway performance in addition to a football game.
9. Give women opportunities to talk during meetings.
Sometimes women aren’t offered equal opportunities to speak at meetings, especially when the overall proportion of women is low. To counteract this, proactively take steps to ensure that women have their views heard. During meetings, ask specifically, “What do you think about X?”
10. Make sure that women in your organization receive strong mentorship.
Internal mentorship is critical to retaining talented employees. Ideally, junior sales professionals should be mentored by multiple people within the organization. It isn’t necessary for women sales professionals to have women mentors. But mentors should be invested in helping women to succeed.