How to build a gender-diverse sales team — and why you want to

Posted July 2, 2021

Our very own global innovation evangelist Mary Shea leads groundbreaking research in the sales engagement and technology space. She’s particularly passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion in B2B sales.

In December 2020, she and a team of experts published evidence highlighting an underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. A glance at the study shows some alarming trends, especially when you consider other widely available statistics:

Many companies say they want to hire a more diverse workforce, but this data shows they’re lagging behind. During Unleash 2021, Mary moderated a panel discussion exploring the ways companies can build and foster diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments in B2B sales.

Read on to hear ideas from industry leaders on how to crack the B2B sales gender diversity code.

Modern Hiring Practices Can Improve the Candidate Pipeline

Nearly three quarters — 74 percent — of B2B sales leaders say they hire with diversity in mind, according to Mary’s research. Unfortunately, these same leaders rely on outdated hiring methods that make it difficult to attract candidates beyond their usual bench.

“It doesn’t make sense to keep using the same old, outdated practices and hoping for a different result,” said Cynthia Barnes, Founder and CEO of the National Association of Women Sales Professionals, an advocacy group promoting the advancement of females in the sales industry.

Her advice to leaders who want to diversify their employee roster? Meet desirable candidates where they are. Seek out people from different universities, regions, training programs, and networking channels. While you’re tweaking your recruiting approach, refresh your job descriptions to appeal to a wider audience.

“If they’re full of verbiage that attracts what you currently have, for example ‘hunter mentality,’ ‘quota crusher,’ ‘rock star’ and ‘killer,’ then you’re going to attract more of the same,” Barnes said.

A good way to course-correct this is to choose words that evoke a sense of belonging. Make sure to highlight transferable skills, such as active listening or problem-solving, to show you’re willing to hire talent from various industries or backgrounds.

Confidence Issues Hold Women in Sales Back

Women have to overcome so much just to arrive at the door before sales teams can welcome them inside.

“Between the ages of 8 and 14, a girl’s confidence declines 30 percent,” said Jody Michael, a noted executive and career coach. “As our focus shifts, so do the internal conversations that we start having with ourselves; we start scrutinizing ourselves, we start questioning ourselves.”

This confidence, lost due in part to social pressures, is often never recovered. Ironically, emerging women sales professionals have every reason to be confident.

Dr. Stefanie Boyer, a professor of marketing at Bryant University, stated that more women are entering the field through the hundred or so colleges offering sales degrees. And when many of these women compete in collegiate sales competitions, they win — in spite of the fact that they experience lower confidence rates than the men when they enter such post-secondary school programs.

“We need to create a great environment to support those women because we know they have the talent and they can perform well,” Boyer said. She added that women have higher levels of empathy, which helps them develop excellent listening skills to truly understand the customer.

Barnes suggested that companies look to hire multiple women at a time and create a buddy system, running them through orientation together.

“They develop a relationship, and they have someone to talk to, and they’re not the only one,” Barnes said. Such camaraderie can help each of them to individually build confidence and recognize that they always have someone to lean on in times of need.

The Key to Retention is Development

With added confidence and support in place for the new seller, companies can focus on professional development, a vital connective tissue between recruitment and retention.

“Think of ways you can have employee resource groups, you can have women in sales training, all types of options for them to develop,” Barnes said. “Quite frankly, the number-one reason why they leave your company isn’t because they’re being poached for more money — it’s because you aren’t developing them.”

A general goal for any organization, but especially one aiming to build a more diverse staff, is to individualize employee training. As Boyer said, training should focus on specific areas that need improvement.

“Don’t just have everybody go through the same standardized training,” she added, “because it reduces morale, and it attacks the competence of the people going through the training.”

As you aim to improve these systems, Varicent CEO Marc Altshuller said you must look at data (not “gut feelings”) to analyze whether your efforts are working. Employee engagement tactics, such as focus groups and crowdsourcing, let you start conversations in a safe space, while technology highlights tangible ways to make decisions, address challenges, and track progress. It can also help you understand if pay equity gaps exist across different groups.

It’s this type of approach that can lead to better retention rates and happier employees, which is the ultimate goal. What good is it to hire a diverse employee base if you’re not doing your best to keep them around?


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