It was 1936. My mom graduated with a degree in finance from Syracuse University, but she couldn’t get a job at a bank. They didn’t hire women, even as tellers. That was 16 years after the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted suffrage for women. We’ve come a long way since then, but some industries and professions still have miles and miles to go.
There’s always been bias against women in sales, and anyone else with different color skin, ethnicity, or beliefs. Today’s rallying cry is to attract more women in sales. But what if women don’t want a career in sales?
Sales is a full-time job, which today means almost 24/7. It wasn’t that way in previous generations. Women and men worked, but they were home for dinner with their families—precious time that’s been taken away from us in today’s world. Perhaps that’s why Millennials are more likely than their parents and grandparents to pause their careers to care for children. A Harvard Business School alumni survey found that 37 percent of Millennial women (42 percent of those married) and 13 percent of Millennial men expect such career interruptions.
There’s an even bigger problem for women in tech sales. If they pause their careers, they might have trouble restarting them. Technology advances so quickly that these women might never catch up. What are companies doing to keep these valuable women current? Obviously, not enough. What they should be doing is developing a program to keep these valuable employees up-to-date on technology advances, policy changes, customer feedback, and anything else they need to know. How often and in what format? Ask them what they need and want.
There’s another wrinkle. Women aren’t applying for sales positions. Sales leaders tell me it takes an intentional effort to find women who even want a sales career. Lack of work/life balance might be one factor. Some might be turned off because sales has a bad reputation (think about the used-car salesman stereotype). Others just probably never thought about a career in sales. I never did. Or maybe they’ve heard stories from women who applied for sales jobs, went through many interviews, and lost out to men. Unfortunately, that’s not uncommon.
Making progress is tough when governments and businesses are dominated by men. Where are the role models for today’s women? Remember the centuries of smart, talented women who refused to be second-best, who fought their way to the top and pulled other women up with them? It’s up to us to encourage and support the women in our lives and create a workplace for them to thrive—sooner, rather than later.