Sales has always been a sector largely dominated by men, as has the tech sector.
Combined, this is causing an imbalance within tech sales teams where women are far less likely to apply for roles and therefore less likely to become leaders in sales.
But why can’t more women thrive in tech sales? And why are so many organisations missing out on the business benefits of having a more neurodiverse salesforce can bring?
As Softcat’s first female Sales Director, I feel passionately about having these conversations, to make sales a more accessible and enjoyable environment for women, and to drive change.
So, where are all the women?
As we have already acknowledged, in any industry where a gender imbalance exists, there are complex forces at play.
Speaking from first-hand experience, and those of female colleagues during my career, there’s certainly a sense of a “bro culture” associated with sales. This sense of culture means that women don’t apply at the same rate as men for tech sales roles, which can make it difficult for business leaders to diversify their teams despite their best intentions.
And it’s not just a problem found in-house, it’s also common customer-side. IT and procurement teams are just as likely to have a hierarchy of mostly men in leadership roles, making it harder for women to find common ground to build that all important rapport needed to drive sales.
The commercial models upon which most sales departments are based can be also seem daunting on the surface to some women. Sales is often a target and commission-driven role which men typically find more appealing, whereas women can lean more towards roles that have fixed rewards for the time and effort put in, especially those with children.
When women do follow their dream of being a top salesperson, the lack of role models in leadership positions can affect the longevity of their careers. With no one to look up to or seek more relevant guidance from, it can be easier to give up than to push harder.
In addition, whilst most organisations are improving their policies on maternity leave, a lot of women who are working their way up the career ladder in sales have no option but to take a break if, and when, they start a family. In a sales environment this can mean hard-earned customer relationships are broken which can be difficult to re-build.
As you can see there are multiple factors that contribute to the gender imbalance in tech sales. But this doesn’t mean these challenges can’t be overcome. With small changes, honest conversation, and cross-sector collaboration, we can all enjoy the benefits of a more diverse sales workforce.
Why the gender gap in sales matters
According to research, by 2025 women are expected to overtake men and become the “richer sex”, owning 60 percent of the UK’s wealth. And for the most part, this is the outcome of more women excelling in their careers.
And in the sales arena it seems women often outperform men too. In fact, a 2019 study revealed 86 percent of women achieved their targets in comparison to 78 percent of men.
From a business perspective, this can be hugely valuable and those organisations not tapping into the growing pool of well-educated, ambitious and confident women to fill their sales positions risk being left behind. A career in sales can also be hugely rewarding to women – both financially and emotionally. Despite being underrepresented, women are typically very well suited to building long-term relationships with customers.
A growing body of research tells us that women naturally have high levels of empathy, understanding, listening and curiosity skills, outperforming men when it comes to emotional self-awareness – all traits that make successful salespeople.
How senior leaders can influence from the top
In recent years, there have been many bold initiatives to encourage women into more senior leadership roles in tech. But seeing a female sales manager, director or head continues to be rarer than it should be.
Creating a culture where women can thrive must start at the top. Boardrooms hold the power to set the standards for female representation across the company, providing pathways to success for women and strengthening leadership with new ideas and diverse perspectives that come from having more women in senior positions.
If leaders aren’t committed to guaranteeing or improving diversity, initiatives can quickly crumble. Sometimes some big changes are needed to disrupt
the status quo of how an organisation is run, how it hires, and how it communicates. This can only happen with the backing of those who hold the power and budget to make the changes.
In a sales environment, as well as in other departments traditionally dominated by men, helping female recruits to develop the confidence and skills they need to move up the job ladder is vital to boost gender diversity in the long term.
And whilst talent, personality and on-the-job experience certainly help with this progression, mentoring and development programmes can also be hugely successful and rewarding. They can help to get the most out of female talent and identify future leaders whose skills may not yet be fully realised – or valued.
Where do we go from here?
There has been some incredible progress made in the technology sector in recent years, but we cannot become complacent.
As we look to build back better from the pandemic, we need to keep challenging ourselves to use all the talents of our workforce and open up the top ranks in traditionally male dominated roles to more women.
While life might not be returning to the “normal” we once knew, there is a unique opportunity to create organisations that better suit and get more out of their talent. The growing popularity of hybrid working is helping staff achieve a better work-life balance, while still offering the structure and stability of the office environment for part of the week.
For women in tech sales, this could be just what they need to thrive. In fact, a recent study on hybrid working found more women than men saw the personal benefits.
With the power of choice and increased flexibility, women are likely to experience higher levels of job satisfaction, which boosts productivity, leading to better results and more commission. Additionally, with increased flexibility, roles that were previously inaccessible to those with other commitments such as children suddenly become a viable option – in short, opening up more jobs to more women.
At Softcat, we’re working hard to lead the way in closing the gender gap in tech sales and believe that now is the perfect opportunity to rethink how we develop our award-winning sales teams. We’re currently hosting female-led focus groups, to discover what staff in this department love, find challenging and need for future progression. Plus, we have a strong Sales Development Programme (SDP) where we look for diversity parity to ensure there are equal opportunities for everyone when it comes to recruitment, selection, training, advancement and retention.
Subsequently the impact of our drive for diversity and inclusion within the organisation is hugely beneficial, and reflective of not only our staff but our customers too. As a large organisation, our efforts to increase diversity at all levels are a signifier of change to women, which is likely to attract a more diverse customer base and narrow down the idea of tech sales as a ‘man’s world’ even more.
We hope this mission will support others in the tech industry to initiate positive changes too.
And for any woman looking to apply for a tech sales position or take the next step up, my advice is clear: “Go for it.”