Why Sales Must Hire More Women

Prioritizing gender diversity in sales expands the talent pool and brings broader business benefits.

The fight to recruit and retain top talent in today’s sales workforce is more fierce than ever. The current selling environment requires more advanced sales skills to handle more customer stakeholders, more complex products and services, and the lengthy and complicated purchase process. Finding sales leaders and reps with these skills is difficult, and yet few organizations effectively tap into the pool of highly qualified female talent.

The sales function has the second-biggest gender equity gap of all corporate functions

“Women are underrepresented and hold just 19% of leadership positions in sales,” says Cristina Gomez, Managing Vice President, Sales Research Practice, Gartner. “The sales function also has the second-biggest gender equity gap of all corporate functions.”

Make the case for gender diversity

Data shows women are underpaid as well as underrepresented in sales roles, and many female sales professionals say they lack the same opportunities for advancement that are available to male counterparts with the same skills and qualifications. “Women hold just one in four midlevel sales manager roles, and only one in five sales leadership positions,” Gomez says.

Gartner found that 91% of men, but only 50% of women, believe female sales professionals have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Only a third of companies have mechanisms to measure the state of gender equity in the sales organization.

Investing in women leaders can help to stabilize the workforce, as women typically stay in their roles for one year longer than men, leading to lower attrition costs

“This is not only a fairness issue; this is a business issue,” says Gomez. “The success of every sales organization depends on its ability to attract, develop and retain high-performing sales professionals and effective sales leaders.”

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Accelerating gender diversity in the sales organization not only expands the potential talent pool, but also brings other business benefits to the sales organization. Gartner analysis shows that investing in women leaders can help stabilize the workforce, as women typically stay in their roles for one year longer than men, leading to lower attrition costs. It also shows that companies with a high level of gender diversity more than doubled their annual revenue compared to their average-gender-diverse competitors.  

Prioritize gender diversity

Gomez says there are three key steps that sales organizations can take to drive greater gender diversity:

  1. Lead from the top. In order to recruit, develop and retain women in your sales force, ensure senior leadership has made a top-down commitment to gender diversity in the sales organization. This requires two key components: very visible and constant senior support, and a strong case for why their commitment is so crucial to your business. Emphasize this effort at critical moments. If diversity is a priority, this commitment should be visible at your national sales meetings, town halls, etc.
  2. Be attractive to women. Take a look at corporate culture, employee value propositions, hiring practices and compensation packages for each gender to make the organization appealing for the majority of the labor market.
  3. Seek input and feedback. Ensure you have a mechanism and process in place to gather and act on candid feedback from high-performing female sales professionals and leaders. To understand why you may be losing high-performing women, consider investing in exit interview analysis conducted by someone outside of HR to capture candid, unbiased feedback and better understand whether there are issues that you need to address.

Forward-thinking sales organizations follow these steps to ensure they attract and retain high-performing female talent. And, in rectifying the lack of gender diversity, they are able to capitalize on overlooked talent in the global labor market.

Consider what your organization needs to do to ensure that it can capitalize on the benefits of hiring more women in sales.

This article has been updated from the original, published on February 27, 2018, to reflect new events, conditions or research.

Gartner for Sales Leaders clients can read more in Gender Diversity in Sales Benchmarking Report.

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