Why sales and pre-sales teams need more women

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Research has shown that organizations with gender diversity in IT sales and pre-sales perform better on their revenue goals, have more stable teams and provide an enhanced overall customer experience – yet we still aren’t attracting enough women to these roles.

Working in IT sales, I’ve seen first-hand the skills women can bring to the table and how valuable they can be to the IT sales process. Most women, for example, are good at nurturing relationships and building trust. But we still have a very low representation of women on sales and pre-sales teams. So what is going wrong?

According to a 2018 report on gender diversity in sales by CEB (now part of Gartner), just one in five sales leadership positions are held by women. In addition, just a quarter of mid-level sales management roles are held by women. The percentage of women in front-line sales management has remained totally flat for the past decade. Yet, many organizations agree that, in general, women on sales teams achieve higher quotas, stay longer in their roles and stabilize sales teams by reducing churn rate.

Changing perceptions

Some women have preconceived ideas about what it is like to work in sales, particularly in a male dominated sector like IT. Job descriptions do not help. They are often geared towards men, include aggressive wording that women don’t identify with and list endless tech skills, not all of which may actually be necessary. An internal Hewlett Packard report, for example, found that men apply for a job if they are 60 percent qualified, whereas women will only apply if they are 100 percent qualified. This isn’t just about women’s confidence. It shows that the unconscious bias needs to change in hiring notices. A simple re-wording could encourage more women to apply.

At the interview stage, men often make up the interview panel and women often see it as more of an interrogation. Adding a women to this process can make it a far more comfortable situation for female interviewees, encouraging them to open up about their past triumphs.

Networking to support each other

For these very reasons, I’m working on setting up a European women-in-sales and pre-sales network within Orange Business Services to provide a support network for women in these roles, which come with very specific workplace challenges.

This group is not about career progression, it is focused on building confidence and providing support. Women, for example, generally share the success of a deal with the whole team and find it difficult to accept personal credit. They have an inability to internalize their own accomplishments. In our network, they can celebrate their successes and share experiences and best practices. Women can show the group that they can sign the big contract and still be a wonderful mother and care giver.

Building support networks in organizations can help women amplify their ideas in the workplace, for example. Often women get talked over in meetings or their ideas dismissed. Amplification, however, can be a game-changer. When a woman makes a point in a meeting, for example, and it is ignored or blown out of the water, other women repeat the idea, giving it support and repeating the source. Amplification is a team effort and only works if you have other women on board.

They can also help to put a stop to manterruptions, where a man continually interrupts a women when she is speaking. This behavior can make women less engaged and creative in professional settings. Women in the network can stop the interrupter in his tracks in meetings, saying: “let her finish, please.” The network can also create buddy systems with men and get them to back women up publicly in meetings if such interruptions happen.

Mentoring, sponsorship and flexible working

Men are happy to run mentoring programs for other men outside work hours, meeting for a beer, for example. Male mentors, however, are often reluctant to have such meetings with women. This means that women often miss out. It is essential that organizations recognize this and make sure adequate mentoring schemes are in place for women that are flexible and easily accessible.

Where mentoring is available, we often see that women have mentors and men have sponsors, capable of escalating their careers in organizations. Women need to actively look out for sponsors that will help give them the confidence to move to the next level and help them achieve their career goals.

It goes without saying that technology provides the tools for mobile and flexible working; as an industry we should lead by example. Work/life balance should be an integral part of pre-sales/sales job descriptions.

Moving forward

We are seeing more and more female CIOs on boards and heading up teams with our customers. To address the market of the future, we must have gender balance in our account teams. Yes, of course this means more outreach and community programs in schools and colleges to engage females in technology, but it also means a major re-think to remove unconscious bias against women in sales and pre-sales roles in organizations, from job descriptions and on-boarding right through to career paths.

I am interested to hear how other organizations are developing and supporting female employees in pre-sales and sales roles through networking groups and mentoring, for example – and if you have any best practices you can share.

Glenda Brady
Glenda Brady

Glenda Brady is VP Sales and Marketing for Europe at Orange Business Services and has been with Orange Business Services since 1998. A keen and active coach both internally within Orange Business Services and externally, Glenda also supports various programs that encourage women in STEM and has set up a forum in the European organization for women in sales and pre-sales.

She is an avid rugby supporter (and one-time player) and, when not working or supporting her home team, she likes to run marathons.