Elevating Women in Sales: A Path to Success and Inclusion
By Dan Fougere
Gender imbalance, compounded by gender bias, has been a pervasive problem for women in sales. It’s not just about the number of women in the profession, but also about their prospects. Yet research, including a 2019 study by Xactly, shows that when women enter sales teams, they often excel, consistently meeting or surpassing quotas and outperforming their male counterparts. Molly Clarke of Spiff points out, “Sales, specifically, has a long history of being a male-dominated profession due to underlying gender bias. As a result, organizations often fail to support, protect, and nurture women in sales.” It’s a cycle that discourages women from pursuing careers in sales and perpetuates gender disparities.
As a former Chief Revenue Officer of multiple high-growth tech businesses, I’ve personally witnessed the transformative impact elevating women in sales can have on an organization—not only on the bottom line but also on company culture and innovation. With a little effort, any business can ensure an even playing field and that women in sales are getting the support they need.
Women Role Models in Sales Shaped the Way I Thought About Women in Sales
Starting my career as an engineer, transitioning into the world of sales was challenging. Yet, I discovered a valuable strategy—observing and emulating those who excelled in the field until I could craft my own unique approach. What set my path apart was that many of my best role models were women, a rarity in sales leadership at the time.
I worked with outstanding female sales leaders at PTC, Actuate, Medallia and Datadog. Each of them taught me lessons that lasted throughout my career, including doing more listening than talking, the power of being genuinely empathetic and showing intense interest in understanding customers’ business challenges, and how to conduct productive discovery sessions and cultivate fervent champions.
Working with talented women helped me become a more effective and inclusive sales leader. I witnessed firsthand that teams with equal performance standards and greater gender diversity consistently outperform their counterparts, solidifying the importance of fostering diversity and inclusion in the sales industry.
With these unique experiences, building a global team at my company that ensured women played a pivotal role with upward mobility, became a central part of my mission.
The Case for Gender Diversity
Sales, often hailed as the lifeblood of a company, is challenging and competitive. It requires a mix of tenacity, communication skills, empathy, and strategic thinking. Gender diversity brings a broader range of perspectives, enhancing overall problem-solving and creativity. When different voices contribute, solutions are more innovative and comprehensive. Diverse sales teams are also more relatable to a diverse customer base. Having sales representatives who understand and empathize with different experiences can significantly improve client relationships and drive revenue growth.
At my last company, we sold a very technical product, which probably made it more difficult to build gender-diverse teams, but we were committed across the C-suite to make it happen, and when we did, we were very successful at empowering women in the organization.
To elevate and support women’s growth within the organization, I became the executive sponsor for women in sales and established weekly meetings aimed at skill-building and inspiring them to take on bigger roles.
Initially I led these meetings. But in short order, the women assumed leadership of the meetings and drove new ideas throughout the organization. Women’s voices became the norm in global sales meetings, and they were regularly being promoted into leadership roles.
Empowering Women in Sales
A range of strategies came together to foster women’s empowerment and growth: Mentorship, Skill Development, Flexible Work and Recognition foremost among them. These elements paved the path to inclusivity and success.
1. Mentorship and Sponsorship: Mentorship and sponsorship play pivotal roles in the professional development of women in sales. Senior leaders and experienced sales professionals can provide guidance, share insights, and help navigate challenges. Encouraging male and female leaders to take on mentorship and sponsorship roles can help build a supportive community that nurtures talent. Female role models inspire other females to think bigger. A 2019 Harvard study shows that women benefit from having an inner circle of close female contacts when they’re seeking positions of executive leadership. But we also know there is currently a chicken and egg issue, so it’s important men serve as sponsors for women whenever they can.
2. Skill Development: Women leaders help drive creativity and innovation in business. Providing learning and development opportunities designed to build their leadership skills helps raise women’s confidence and competence on the job, creates a culture of empowerment, and sets the stage for higher achievement and leadership among women at the company.
3. Recognition: Women today are making great strides in demonstrating their power, skill and capability in corporations and especially in sales, even though 2020 statistics still show that only 25 percent of sales roles in tech firms are filled by women. It is among the reasons that it is essential we recognize and reward women’s accomplishments—for them and for others. Highlighting their achievements not only boosts the honoree’s confidence, but also boosts company morale and provides others who may want to join the industry with celebrated role models to follow. In addition, making women’s contributions highly visible throughout the company helps combat unconscious bias. These recognition programs support a more inclusive workplace culture where women’s successes cannot be overlooked.
The Future of Sales is Inclusive
Elevating women in sales is not just a moral imperative, it is a strategic move that drives business success. Companies that actively support and promote women in sales position themselves for growth and innovation and contribute to a more equitable society.
As leaders in the business world, it’s our responsibility—as male and female executives— to create pathways for women to thrive in sales. By encouraging mentorship and sponsorship, providing skill development opportunities, offering flexible work, and recognizing achievements, we can create inclusive environments that transform the sales landscape into one that is more vibrant and diverse—where individuals, teams, and companies all win.