Just listening to the personal experiences of others at our women’s networking lunch during our sales kick-off in Berlin made me realize how important these events are in supporting, connecting with and inspiring other women in sales and pre-sales. Men so often link networking with pleasure, in the form of a few rounds of golf, for example. Women, however, hit their mid 30s and have families, and networking falls by the wayside as a priority.
We’ve all been in situations where we’ve been the only woman in a meeting and haven’t given it a second thought. But there are times when we can feel really isolated as women in this industry: worried about putting our hands up for new projects in case we fail, anxious about sharing our ideas in case they are shot down, for example. Do these sound familiar?
Women’s networking groups provide a support mechanism for women to share their stories and get advice without being sized up – addressing challenges in digital sales and pre-sales, which are so different from any other industry. Our field is dynamic, highly charged, ever changing, male dominated and is – at the same time – trying to deal with a huge skills shortage.
Women still leaving the industry
Women are still under represented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), from new graduate roles through to management and board level. At the same time we are still seeing women leave the industry in droves. According to non-profit AnitaB.org, women leave technology companies twice as fast as men. Over half of women leave careers in technology before they get mid-term in their careers. In other words, the industry is hemorrhaging talent.
Many women suffer with imposter syndrome and find it difficult to negotiate – be it a promotion or a salary raise. Unconscious bias, where women are given more mundane tasks than men and are judged in a negative way for behavior that might be seen positively in male colleagues, is also a problem.
Women’s networking groups address these and other issues. In sales and pre-sales, they help deepen sales skills and stimulate innovation and knowledge acquisition from those with diverse sales backgrounds. They provide an invaluable sounding board for women to speak openly about their successes and challenges and a way to share strategies for addressing specific challenges in a safe environment, without fear of judgement. It is also an avenue for women to pay forward and share their experiences with other women, who are on similar career paths.
Industry value in women’s groups
The good news is that the industry has definitely started to identify the importance of women’s groups in terms of support and tapping into new business relationships. We have started women’s meet-ups in sales and pre-sales here at Orange Business, and the feedback has been great.
Alexandra Stoven, Global Account Manager at Dell EMC, is a great supporter of women’s industry meet-ups. Dell has an initiative called “Women in Action” (WIA). “These events are very useful in supporting women in our business,” she said. “WIA focuses on many areas, from talent profiling for HR to confidence building and wellness advice to reduce stress. It encourages women to create their own network within the company and get female sponsors from the business to help in career development.”
Pauline Francois, Global Channel Manager at Cisco Systems also sees enormous value in these events to exchange, interact and share tips and experiences in sales. Cisco also has its own women’s networking group dubbed Women of Impact. “Our group is very active on a local and national level,” she explains. “It is a different learning experience, being part of a same gender group, and is very empowering. Women tend to be very modest about their accomplishments and push back to being observers. This has helped stop me being a spectator and not being shy about what I’ve achieved.”
Delivering growth through diversity
Gender diversity is correlated with both overall company profitability and value creation, according to research by McKinsey. This has been underscored by research from the Boston Consulting Group, which found that companies that have more diverse management teams boast a 19 percent higher revenue due to innovation. “More diverse teams and diverse people bring value and success to a company. It is a win-win situation for everyone,” says Francois.
Many women find it hard to beat the drum about their experiences, qualities and skills. Networking groups aren’t the silver bullet to gender issues in the workplace; but they offer up real-world advice and enable women to establish a network they can keep in touch with – providing a sense of belonging and a coping mechanism. If we can elevate other women in any way that is a huge positive in gaining and retaining women in sales in this industry.
The power of networking has made me realize that men and women should be setting aside some time every week to maintain and develop their networks, even if it is only an hour for a mentoring session over a coffee. Your personal network is, after all, strongly linked to your career and personal success – keeping it strong should be a priority.
I am interested to hear how other organizations are developing and supporting female employees in pre-sales and sales roles through networking groups. I look forward to hearing from you.
Glenda Brady is Managing Director, UK and Ireland at Orange Business and has been with Orange Business since 1998. A keen and active coach both internally within Orange Business 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.