I haven’t given much thought to this. Until now, in celebration of International Women’s Day, when I’ve been asked to share my reflections on being a woman in sales.
Bossy. Bitchy. Competitive. Ice Queen. Opinionated. In my sales and sales management career, I’ve been labeled all the above.
I’ve earned a few other labels, too. Top producer. Award winner. Corporate Director. President. Mentor.
Being a woman in this male-dominated profession hasn’t stopped me from achieving what I set out to achieve. Maybe it’s because I reject gender stereotypes and haven’t allowed them to steer my actions.
Or maybe it’s because there’s a third set of labels, the ones I choose for myself.
Determined. Courageous. Other-Oriented. Curious. Integrity.
These aren’t qualities that naturally accompany my gender. They’re not qualities automatically associated with sales. They are values that I deliberately decided to operationalize in my life.
I attribute my success in sales to my operating values.
When someone tells me I can’t, I say “Oh, yeah? Just watch me.” When I hit a roadblock, I investigate it. If I need to get past it to achieve my goals, I’m relentless in chipping away at it.
I welcome the opportunity to prove myself, especially when I can help others in the process. Mostly, though, I’m not terribly concerned with other’s opinions about me. I hold myself accountable to living in accord with my values. That’s enough for me.
What My Feminist Mom Taught Me about Making My Own Way
Both my parents were Marine Corps drill sergeants. Mom was one of the first U.S. Women Marines to travel abroad. She broke new ground and was an early feminist who challenged gender-based limitations and stereotypes.
At the same time, Mom believed that taking did not require taking away from someone else. She pushed me to get recognition and rights and opportunities on my own merits. I never expected or wanted to be considered, selected or promoted based on my gender.
These days, I belong to Women Sales Pros. The organization’s vision is to see more women in B2B sales companies. I support this vision because I have been richly blessed by my sales career. I fear that many women are missing out on similarly rewarding experiences.
Why Aren’t There More Women in Sales?
I think the number one reason we don’t see more women in sales is that many self-select out of sales roles. They refuse to consider entry level jobs or exit the profession before taking next-level jobs. For many women, sales is not an attractive career.
Aggressive-sounding descriptions about the work make it unappealing. Crushing quota, being a hunter and bagging the prospect isn’t how I see selling, but it’s how it’s often described and the reason it’s rejected by many women (and some men, too). Even the suffix -man, as in salesman, may inadvertently steer women away from this profession.
Perhaps I’ve been insulated. I worked in companies where women had equal opportunities to prove themselves. If there was pay disparity or favoritism for men in the places I worked, I was oblivious to it. Instead, I was focused on making the leaderboard and hitting every goal I was given. I succeeded, far more often than not.
When it came to job promotions, I was selected for every job I applied for, save one. Although I wasn’t right for that job, the org chart depicted it as the next rung on the career ladder. Good thing I didn’t get that job because a much better opportunity came along just two months later. It was a huge promotion into a corporate role.
I acknowledge that many women have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace. I’m not one of them, and I’m not well-informed enough to speculate on whether this happens often in sales or not. My guess is that it happens in sales just as it does in other places.
The Opportunity to Make Your Own Way in Sales
But here’s the thing. In sales, you have a much greater opportunity to make your own way. Your numbers are an indisputable and objective indicator of your performance. Strong performance gets rewarded.
What’s more, sales offers more flexibility and lifestyle freedom than most careers. I’ve been a Mom since I was 20 years old. My youngest has profound special needs and requires a great deal of time and attention. No other career would have been as accommodating. I can juggle my schedule and still be wildly successful.
Best of all, anyone can learn to sell. There aren’t natural-born qualities required. Sellers are as diverse as the products they represent and the buyers they call on. Selling is for anyone who is willing to invest time, energy and effort into creating and presenting solutions that make sense for buyers.
Our research with 530 B2B buyers bears this out. The Stop Selling & Start Leading® movement is about being a leader in order to be an effective seller. Women and men alike can make their own way and succeed using these behaviors that buyers prefer.
My two greatest hopes for the sales profession are that we’ll open it up to everyone by aligning with our buyers and offering what they want to see from us. And, when we do, that more will be attracted to work in and proudly represent this noble and rewarding profession.