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Making waves as a woman in a male-dominated sector

4th Jul 2022
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According to a recent study by the Harvard Business Review, women make up just over half the workforce but hold fewer than one-third of B2B sales positions in the US. In the UK, the picture is no better, with the proportion of men working in full time sales jobs far outweighing women, according to research from the Office for National Statistics.

So, how can we encourage more women to enter the world of sales, why is this industry viewed as a man’s world and how can we ensure better representation of women in senior sales positions?

Starting out

To stand the best chance of success, women who have decided to start their career in sales need to be very thick skinned and self-motivated. The entry level role of sales development representative (SDR) is one of the toughest jobs in sales and it’s important to develop the ability to cope with a lot of rejection. It can help to remember that a major deal could well be just a phone call away.

When I was in a more junior role there were situations where I was leading client meetings, and I knew I wasn’t being taken seriously by the client. Look for roles where there is an inclusive culture and where the business only works with clients who have a positive culture, which is a core part of our agency ethos at Punch!. Seek out businesses which champion gender equality and which actively work towards having an equal balance of men and women.

Choose a company which provides clear career progression, enabling SDR roles to evolve into new opportunities. Delivering career progression will also support business leaders, who want to retain all that fantastic talent regardless of gender. 

Have faith in yourself and know that after the first new business meeting is in the diary, confidence will only soar. The key to surviving this first phase is perseverance. Focus on building motivation, be tenacious and learn how to accept and cope with rejection.

Learn to develop a positive mindset. For me, writing down three goals every day and then a positive affirmation produced real results. A pumped attitude will achieve the best results, however rolling out of bed in the morning and hitting the phones simply will not work.

Understand that businesses change all the time, so learn to accept this, adapt and thrive in an environment that is constantly evolving.

Moving up

Women who want to make the leap to head of sales, must develop the ability to think about the bigger picture, as well as thinking about the front line where SDRs operate.

Consider employee morale and seek out new technology which will help the team to deliver better results.

SDRs have a job which is very repetitive. This means that what worked to motivate them this week, won’t necessarily work next week. They need variety in terms of the benefits offered to maintain high levels of motivation.

To succeed in a role as head of sales, women must be self-motivated, but also to understand that it can be quite isolating at the top. Therefore, it’s even more important to build relationships with the team and clients, using those soft skills of empathy and listening to understand different personalities and how to get the best out of them.

Sales businesses must foster a culture which is supportive and trusting, where senior salespeople are empowered to lead their teams. When starting a role as a SDR it’s often the first full time role, so it’s a privilege to make this an enjoyable experience, which will be a fantastic career going forward.

Man’s world

The sales industry is still very male dominated and while there are women thought leaders active on LinkedIn sales communities, the majority are still men.

Before the pandemic, imagine walking into a sales office full of men as the only woman? This kind of testosterone-charged environment could put women off.

But now that the pandemic has opened up more flexible working opportunities for women such as hybrid or working from home, this could boost the number of women working in sales who are looking for an exciting career, but with increased flexibility.

When the pandemic struck, our agency was forced to go virtual – and we have decided to remain remote first but with a central hub that people can visit as and when they want.

The agency continued to grow rapidly and the remote first approach has created a culture of trust and transparency where people are delivering amazing results but with the freedom to do the job from anywhere.

Employees have been working out of countries like Greece and Dubai, either to visit family and friends, or just so they can have an extended holiday, but continue to work in a new and exciting country.

The decision for women to have children and leave our careers for a time is a major life step. I’m very career focused and I haven’t had children yet, but for me this has to be one of the biggest challenges that women face as our career develops.

Select a business which gives women a supportive environment where they can have a stellar career, but also offers a work life balance and where the demands that come with childcare are appreciated and valued.

The pandemic has turned sales into a much more flexible job for both men and women who want to balance a career with family needs, with hybrid or remote working now common.

It’s simply no longer the case that sales means working in an office filled with men pacing the room hunting down the next opportunity. It will be interesting to watch how this shift to more flexible conditions addresses the gender imbalance in the sales industry.

For now, my advice for women considering a career in sales is to look for the right company to join with values that align with their own. 

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