I was speaking with a prospect the other day and the subject of recruiting women in sales came up. This company is extremely impressive: high-growth, exciting market, great location, amazing sales culture - the works.
However, they hadn’t made much progress in balancing the gender of their sales force. In fact, their current ratio was roughly 7:1 (male to female).
This blew me away as this company had so much going for them. If they were struggling to find women for their sales organization, what does that mean for our industry?
So I did some research and came up with a few ideas.
Recruiting sales women
- Make job descriptions gender neutral
Watch your pronouns, "AE isn’t afraid to have his performance measured against others" or “Candidate must take ownership of his territory.”
- Lay off the war words
Hunt, kill, crush – these words tend not to appeal to female candidates. “The VP Sales is looking for other sales animals.” (Some might argue that ‘ninja’ & ‘rockstar’ are male-centric too.)
- Balance the 'perks'
Kegerators-on-demand, competitive darts, flag football, etc. might not be balanced benefits. Compare that to the great job Forrester does here:
Interviewing sales women
- Scope realistic job ‘requirements’
Hiring managers often write job requirements aspirationally – meaning listing stretch goals. Men, more often than women, will apply for jobs that ‘require’ skills they haven’t yet mastered. From Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, ‘An internal report at Hewlett-Packard revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements.’
- Remember: you want a good negotiator
Again, from Lean In, ‘There is little downside when men negotiate for themselves. People expect men to advocate on their own behalf, point out their contributions, and be recognized and rewarded for them. For men, there is truly no harm in asking. But since women are expected to be concerned with others, when they advocate for themselves or point to their own value, both men and women react unfavorably.’ Note that last sentence. Interesting, no?
- You want assertiveness too
Similarly, assertiveness has been found to help men and hurt women. So if an interviewer finds a female candidate ‘overconfident’ or ‘too aggressive,’ ask them to reflect 'If this candidate were a man, would I feel the same way?’ At Dreamforce, Marc Benioff shared a story around this very issue (link jumps you to the relevant moment).
To road test these theories, I interviewed a Sales Manager at Yesware, a Boston-based high-growth SaaS company. Zoe Silverman runs Sales Operations and has been responsible for hiring the current Inside Sales team of 6 (4 of which are women).
Here is what she had to say:
So, how about you?
Has the gender balance of your sales team ever come up? Are you succeeding or struggling to recruit women?
I'd love to hear if (and how) your organization is addressing this challenge. And hey… if you are a woman in sales, share what attracts you to a company and help the entire community! Thanks in advance.