Five saleswomen told me they could only work four hours during the day. All had young children at home and were sharing small spaces with their partners during quarantine. Not only was it hard to concentrate on work, but they felt guilty for not spending more time with their kids. So, they worked at night to complete their tasks. All were dedicated to their jobs, but they were overwhelmed. There were not enough hours in the day, and they were under constant pressure to produce. They still had quotas to meet. Their stress factor was off the charts.
The playing field has never been fair for professional women, especially mothers and especially minority women, who have additional systemic challenges to overcome. This global emergency is no exception.
It’s a Man’s World … Even During a Pandemic
The women I spoke to were at least glad to still have jobs. The same is not true for many of their female friends. More women than men have been impacted during this pandemic while sheltered-at-home. The majority of jobs lost in April were held by women. As The New York times reported: “The scale of the crisis is unlike anything since the Great Depression. And for the first time in decades, this crisis has a predominantly nonwhite, female face.”
In the U.S., women account for 55 percent of the 20.5 million jobs lost this April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That puts the unemployment rate for adult women at about 15 percent, up from 3.1 percent two months earlier. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for adult men was 13 percent in April. Women of color lost their jobs at a much greater rate, with a 16.4 percent unemployment rate for black women and a 20.2 percent rate for Hispanic women.
The biggest reason for these losses is the industries hardest hit by the pandemic — leisure, hospitality, education and even some parts of healthcare — are “disproportionately nonwhite and female.” Once again, the cards are stacked against women.
Sales is a bit of an exception — not because fewer minority women are losing sales jobs, but because fewer minority women ever had them in the first place.
The issue is no longer just about the lack of women in sales, but the lack of women of color and minorities. Women earn less than men for the same jobs, and they lose jobs faster and to a greater extent in a recession. Adding insult to injury, non-white women are even more impacted.
It’s time to challenge conventional thinking about why women don’t move up the ladder and start addressing the structural biases and opportunity gaps that still hold women back in sales.
Women in Sales Face Additional Hurdles
How many women of color and minorities do you see in sales? You had to think about it, didn’t you? Some are in entry-level sales jobs, a few in mid-market sales, and even fewer in enterprise sales. What about sales management? I challenge you to come up with more women than you can count on one hand.
Ask any enterprise sales leader about their sales challenges, and you’ll get specific answers about why their teams can’t get access to buyers or why they’re losing to the competition. Ask them why there aren’t more women in sales, and their answers get vague: Perhaps women don’t have the requisite skills, or they don’t raise their hands enough, or hiring managers don’t know how to find qualified female candidates.
Let me set the record straight: Women absolutely have the requisite skills. Succeeding in sales takes more than technical expertise. It takes great relationships to score meetings and seal deals, and women have those in spades. Women build trust and credibility upfront. We’re just as capable as salesmen of figuring out how technology works.
Daily headlines remind us that unconscious bias exists in its most virulent form. We know bias is there, but we can’t confront it until it’s stated and proven. It’s sneakier than gender discrimination or racial prejudice of old, but just as damaging for careers and relationship-building opportunities.
How Saleswomen Can Help Themselves
There’s plenty that companies can do to attract and retain more talented women, particularly women of color. It’s also those individuals’ responsibility to stand out and get their voices heard. Women often don’t raise their hands, toot their own horns, or share their ideas. It’s even worse in a virtual setting, and harder for many women to get a word in.
What’s the lesson here for women in sales? Know your stuff and have confidence in yourself. Seek out mentors—male and female. Build the strong relationships you’re so good at building. Never stop learning and sharing your wisdom, with your clients and with women coming up the ranks behind you. The more women support each other, the more quickly all of us will succeed.
Along the way, make time for yourself and the people you care about. Don’t let this pandemic, recession-driven, uncertain world deplete all your energy and dull your creativity. To succeed in the future, you’ll need plenty of both.