Although women make up more than half of the global workforce, they represent fewer than one-third of all B2B sales and one-quarter of all B2B tech sales roles. And when it comes to the coveted top sales jobs, women hold only 12% of those positions. While gender diversity in B2B sales is severely lacking, company profits are close to 50% higher when women are well-represented at executive levels. And when women lead sales teams, they deliver higher win and quota attainment rates than their male counterparts.
In early 2020, Robert Peterson, PhD, and Stefanie Boyer, PhD, editors of the Journal of Selling, asked us to conduct research and submit an article for their annual “Women in Sales” issue. I gathered together a team of experts at Forrester to contribute to the research and writing, and in December 2020, the journal published our article, “It’s Time to Move Past Lean-In: Breaking Institutional Barriers to Empower Female Sales Leaders.”
In our study, we examined some of the systemic biases women in B2B sales face. We looked at distinct phases of career progression and surfaced unique challenges women reported. We then compared them with those their male counterparts identified. We provided recommendations for what policymakers, academics, and business leaders can do to better support female sales professionals and to increase female representation in B2B sales. Finally, we gave advice for what female sellers can do to navigate through and around predictable obstacles.
Our study included quantitative and qualitative research methods, and I drew from my own experiences as a chief commercial officer overseeing multiple high-growth global sales organizations. For instance:
- We interviewed a powerhouse of women sales leaders at B2B organizations.
- We fielded Forrester’s Q4 2020 Global Women In Sales Survey to both female and male B2B sales professionals, managers, and leaders to learn more about their experiences and pressure points along their career paths.
- We used survey data from the Women In Revenue’s State of Women in Revenue Annual Survey 2020 of quota-carrying women professionals.
Here are some highlights from our research:
- Business leaders must commit to doing the work. Company executives are responsible for creating inclusive cultures, policies, and processes; supporting career advancement and pay equity; and fostering a work environment where formal and informal mentorship can flourish. Look at your job descriptions, hiring processes, parental leave policies, and flexible work models. If they need revamping, do it.
- Implicit biases are just as harmful as explicit ones. Gender bias against women isn’t always explicit and can manifest in subtle but harmful ways. Our research revealed women professionals: 1) who were told they were “not strategic enough”; 2) whose ideas were not taken seriously; or 3) who were left out of important business conversations that took place outside the standard work environment.
- Take steps to preempt predictable roadblocks. Without abdicating institutional and societal responsibilities, our research provides pragmatic advice for female sales pros at all stages of their careers to successfully overcome the hurdles they will likely encounter on their journey to that top sales job!
Read our article in the Journal of Selling: “It’s Time to Move Past Lean-In: Breaking Institutional Barriers to Empower Female Sales Leaders.”
To continue the conversation, you can get in touch with me on my LinkedIn or Twitter. You can also reach out to coauthor Matthew Flug on his LinkedIn or Twitter and coauthor Jennifer Zhang on her LinkedIn or Twitter.