How Managers Are Driving Women Away (from Sales)

Kayla Kearns

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By Kayla Kearns, Director of Sales Development, SmartBear

Today, I read that 25% of technology salespeople are women, and only 12% are female sales managers. In my experience, that statistic seems relatively high. Too often, the sales floor of a tech company can look like a men's lacrosse team.

Since my first job as a manager, I have been hell-bent on increasing female representation in technology sales. I am passionate about this because I have seen firsthand how satisfying and fruitful a sales career can be. I doubted my abilities but eventually developed a strong sense of fearlessness and confidence through success in sales. I have worked beside and have been trained by some of the smartest people I know. I have challenged myself more than I thought possible, and I have worked my way from entry-level sales development rep (SDR) to director in less than five years. How many other careers can give you these same opportunities?

We have known about this gender gap in sales and technology for years but have been unsuccessful in moving the needle in a meaningful way. People ask me all the time . . . "Why aren't there more women in tech sales?" The answer is straightforward. Women aren't in sales because managers are driving them away.

Managers Aren't Committed to Hiring Women

For every eight males that apply to my SDR job posting, one female applies. If the gap is this large at the beginning of the funnel, it will only get greater as candidates move forward in the interview process. I must be patient and committed to expanding my scope.

Simply saying, "we need more women in sales" is not solving the problem. Posting the job requisition in a women's group is not solving the problem. Asking women at the company for referrals is not solving the problem. If we want to make a difference, we must agree to significantly change how we recruit salespeople and commit to making a shift.

Sales Job Descriptions Suck

Go to any job site and search "sales" and you will quickly see a pattern. Words like "aggressive," "work hard, play hard," and "highly competitive" crawl all over these pages. Change a few nouns around and these could double as an ad for football tryouts.

Not many women consider themselves "aggressive" (because we were taught that's a bad thing, but that's another article . . . ) or "highly competitive." When women see these postings dripping in masculine language, there's something subconscious that happens that makes them think it's not a good fit for them or that they aren't qualified enough. Simply changing the vocab and focusing on success factors like training, mentorship, and career development can make a big difference.

Your "Ideal" Candidate is Too Narrow

We need to be more open-minded about what makes someone a "good" sales candidate. If our criteria is based on what we have seen succeed in the past, and if what we have seen in the past is mostly male . . . doesn't that make our criteria biased to men?

The scope of an "ideal" sales candidate is typically narrow and predictable. Let me guess—you're looking for someone who is outgoing, competitive, confident, assertive, and if they are an athlete, that's a plus. We are missing out on countless potential candidates by focusing on some of the wrong qualities. Just because someone doesn't look like another salesperson doesn't mean they can't be great.

The Most Diverse Sales Teams Thrive

Some of my best salespeople were quiet. I've had excellent reps who lacked confidence in their everyday lives. And I would hardly describe myself as an "athlete," but I've made it this far without that getting in the way. I've hired missionaries, physical therapists, golf instructors, entrepreneurs, and everyone in between. I've had all-female teams. I've had all-male teams. Consistently, I have found that the most diverse teams thrive the most because they can learn so much from each other.

Overall, my hope is to get everyone thinking about tech sales differently. As hiring managers, it is our responsibility to be aware of the unconscious bias in hiring and to be open-minded about people from unique backgrounds. As women, we can't let anything get in our way.

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