In a world where women make up roughly half of the population, it’s only natural that we’d see a similar distribution in sales, too. But that’s not the case. What’s more, studies show that despite women consistently hitting or even surpassing their sales quotas, they only earn 82% as much as their male counterparts.
Despite these challenges and disparities, women in sales are actively working to shatter the stereotype that has lingered for far too long. They’re rewriting the narrative, challenging conventions, and proving that success in sales is not bound by gender but by skills, determination, and innovative approaches.
In this article, we’ll take a look into the challenges endured by women in sales and hear their stories, unique approaches, and their contributions to making the sales field a more inclusive area.
Table of Contents
- Breaking Traditional Sales Stereotypes
- Challenges Women Face in Sales Careers
- Why Men and Women Have Different Approaches to Sales
- Breaking the Stereotypes
- Benefits of Having More Women in Sales
- How Companies Can Attract and Retain Female Talent
Breaking Traditional Sales Stereotypes
Historically, sales has been a profession laden with stereotypes.
Think of the traditional sales stereotypes. The door-to-door salesman. The used car salesman. The pushy closer. The slick, smooth talker. Visualize each of these people in your head. Got them? Good.
Were any of your mental images women? They weren’t for me, and I’ll venture a guess they weren’t for most of you.
For years, the prevailing perception of a successful salesperson has often leaned toward traditionally masculine traits: assertiveness, dominance, and unwavering confidence. These characteristics have been associated with sales effectiveness and have perpetuated gender biases within the sales industry.
One of the significant challenges women face in sales is the pressure to conform to these stereotypes.
They often find themselves navigating a sales landscape that expects them to adopt a more assertive and aggressive approach, even if it doesn’t align with their natural style. This pressure can be stifling and hinder their ability to build authentic client relationships.
According to Beverly Britt, principal broker and owner of Success Home Realty, women don’t need to imitate men to succeed in sales. “Don’t try to be a man. You aren’t a man. Be a woman.”
Successful women in sales have shown that empathy, active listening, relationship-building, and collaboration are not weaknesses but powerful tools that can lead to stronger client relationships and increased sales.
Challenges Women Face in Sales Careers
Gender biases refer to preconceived notions and stereotypes about the abilities and characteristics of individuals based on their gender. Unfortunately, the sales industry is not immune to them. Here’s what women face on a daily basis.
Women may often encounter stereotypes that cast them as less assertive or persuasive than their male counterparts. In fact, more than 49% of saleswomen have confessed that they worry about how they are viewed in the workplace.
Client bias often manifests as a preference for male sales representatives, putting women at a disadvantage in building relationships and closing deals. Melissa Terry, Sales Executive at VEM Tooling, says that one of the most disheartening things she has had to deal with in her career is witnessing clients occasionally expressing skepticism about her industry knowledge solely because of her gender.
As I mentioned earlier, studies have shown that women in sales often face worse compensation compared to men in similar roles. This wage gap is often attributed to gender-related biases that affect performance evaluations and salary negotiations.
Limited Promotion and Leadership Opportunities
Data shows that although 49% of sales reps are women, only 26% are at the management level. This is even though it’s well-documented that companies with a greater proportion of female executives achieve higher profitability compared to those with fewer women in leadership roles.
Women also experience gender-based microaggressions in the workplace, which are subtle, often unintentional forms of discrimination. Of women in sales, 15% reported receiving limited support from their bosses compared to their male counterparts.
Lack of Representation in Leadership
Women are underrepresented in leadership positions within the sales field. This lack of representation can be demotivating for aspiring female sales professionals. Likewise, the absence of role models and mentors can hinder their career advancement.
Men and Women Often Have Different Approaches to Sales
Men and women often have different approaches to sales, and it’s not just about personality — it’s often about how they’ve been socialized and what’s been expected of them in their careers. Let’s break it down.
Men are often encouraged to be aggressive and go for the “hard sell.” They’re usually praised for being direct, competitive, and focused on closing the deal quickly. This approach is often about numbers — meeting quotas and getting to the point fast.
Women, on the other hand, are often more consultative in their sales approach. They tend to focus on understanding customer needs and solving problems.
Women may also be excellent at building long-term relationships with clients, which can lead to repeat business and more sustainable revenue in the long run. They aim to connect and build trust, which is vital for customer retention.
Which approach is better?
Both approaches have their merits, and a good sales team should aim to have a mix of both. Men’s directness can be effective in situations that require quick decision-making, while women’s consultative approach can be beneficial when a client is looking for a thoughtful, tailored solution.
So, it’s not about one approach being better than the other; it’s about recognizing that diversity in sales strategies can be a strength for any sales team. Understanding these different approaches can help companies build more balanced teams and offer better service to a wider range of clients.
Breaking the Stereotypes
When we pigeonhole women into certain roles or expect men to act a certain way, we miss out on a wealth of talent and perspective. So, how are women shaking things up and breaking these outdated molds?
You know those stories where someone defies all odds and breaks through barriers? The sales industry has its fair share of women who have done just that. These stories aren’t just inspiring; they’re proof that women don’t have to fit into a certain box to be successful in sales.
Here are some women who are making history in the sales industry.
1. Lori Richardson
Lori Richardson, a leading sales influencer on LinkedIn, champions women in sales. She began as a single mother in B2B sales and, after 18 years, founded her own sales strategy firm.
She’s also the creator of Women Sales Pros and the She Sells Summit. On top of that, she hosts the Conversations with Women in Sales podcast.
“As a woman in sales, a challenge that exists lies in representation, especially as you push into further leadership roles,” Richardson says. “There is currently a disparity that exists in the sales industry related to the number of women in leadership roles.”
2. Lisa Diaz
Lisa Diaz has decades of leadership experience in sales and marketing, working with a diverse clientele that spans start-ups, nonprofits, celebrities, and even heads of state, with audiences in more than 130 countries. She also has been privileged to serve on multiple nonprofit boards and committees, furthering her commitment to positively impacting the world.
She now leads Sirenlis Creative Communications, a company on a mission to craft engaging brand narratives that elevate their clients’ remarkable stories and leave a lasting impression.
“Women make great salespeople because they possess skills that most salesmen don’t have. For example, women are more patient,” Diaz days. “I became a better salesperson when I became a mom. Toddlers are the best negotiators in the world. It was like having a private sales coach 24/7.”
3. Celeste Moya
Celeste Moya is a seasoned professional in the world of high-net-worth life insurance sales, boasting nearly two decades of industry experience. Her journey in this field began in 2003, and since 2016, she has been dedicated exclusively to sales. As she says, she has been through all the motions in the sales industry.
“Being in sales is one of the most rewarding and equally heart-breaking careers. And being a female Latina millennial has meant that I have had to transcend many boundaries to achieve success,” Moya says.
Even with these challenges, Moya says that a learning mindset has helped her progress in her career.
“I learned early on in my career that there is no better way to earn respect and a seat at the table than to prioritize continuous learning, respect yourself, and not focus on the figurative boxes we are supposed to fit in,” she says.
Benefits of Having More Women in Sales
If companies want to be part of the solution, they’ve got to do more than just talk the talk. This means creating a culture where women feel valued and supported. It means ditching the one-size-fits-all approach to sales and recognizing that diversity is a strength, not a box to tick. When companies actively work to break down stereotypes, everybody wins.
A Fresh Perspective
Let’s face it: If everyone on your team thinks the same way, you’re going to hit a creativity wall sooner or later. Women often bring a different approach to sales — more consultative, more focused on relationship-building, and often more empathetic.
This fresh perspective can be a game-changer when you’re trying to solve problems or find new ways to connect with customers.
Diversity isn’t just a checkbox; it’s a catalyst for better team performance. When you have a mix of men and women on a sales team, the dynamic often changes for the better.
Conversations become more balanced, problem-solving gets more creative, and the team is generally more adaptable. It’s like having a well-rounded diet instead of just eating the same thing every day.
Closing the Gender Gap
Believe it or not, equality is actually good for your bottom line. Studies have shown that companies with more diverse teams often outperform those that don’t. Plus, it’s a strong selling point for potential employees and clients who want to align themselves with progressive companies.
Better Adaptability to Different Customer Needs
Women often excel in adaptability, adjusting their sales techniques to meet the specific needs or concerns of a client. This flexibility can be a huge asset when dealing with a diverse customer base, making it easier to tailor solutions that really hit the mark.
How Companies Can Attract and Retain Female Talent
Alright, let’s get down to brass tacks. You’ve heard about the benefits of having more women in sales roles, but how do you actually get them in the door — and keep them there?
Encourage a diversity-focused recruitment approach.
To attract more women, make your job ads more welcoming. Swap out words like “competitive” and “dominant” for more inclusive terms like “passionate” or “collaborative.”
Remember, 76% of job-seekers care about workplace diversity, so a more inclusive job ad can actually draw in more diverse applicants.
Companies should partner with organizations and attend events that target diverse talent pools, including women. In the interview process, include diverse panels to minimize unconscious bias.
Create a supportive environment.
A supportive work environment isn’t just about having a nice coffee machine. It’s about creating a culture where everyone feels valued and heard. This could mean anything from mentorship programs to regular check-ins to see how employees are doing.
When people feel supported, they’re more likely to stick around.
Uphold equal pay for equal work.
This one should be a no-brainer, but it’s shocking how many companies still don’t get it. Women want to be paid fairly for their work. Period. Make sure your company is conducting regular pay audits to ensure that there’s no gender wage gap.
Offer career growth opportunities.
Nobody wants to be stuck in a dead-end job. Make sure you’re offering real opportunities for career growth. This could be in the form of training programs, workshops, or clear paths to promotion. Show potential female hires that there’s a future for them at your company.
Enforce zero tolerance for harassment.
Let’s be clear: Harassment is a deal-breaker. Make sure your company has a zero-tolerance policy for any form of harassment and that there are clear channels for reporting issues. A safe work environment is non-negotiable.
Enact family-friendly policies.
Last but not least, consider implementing family-friendly policies like generous parental leave, on-site childcare, or even just a comfortable space for nursing mothers. These may seem like small things, but they send a big message that you value and support your employees’ whole lives, not just their 9-to-5 selves.
Women in Sales Today
While obstacles certainly exist — ranging from outdated stereotypes to systemic biases — the resilience and innovation demonstrated by women in sales are carving out new pathways for success.
The narrative is shifting, not just because society is becoming more aware of the need for equality, but because women themselves are stepping up, breaking barriers, and rewriting the rules of what it means to be successful in sales. And in doing so, they’re setting the stage for the next generation of saleswomen, who will enter a field that is more diverse, more equitable, and more open to the full range of talents they have to offer.