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Is Sales Really the Great Equalizer for Women?

October 30, 2020 by Katie Berg

Since my first day at Klue three years ago, I’ve been surrounded by women in sales. In fact, they WERE the sales team.

To be clear, I was a marketer (now a marketer & SDR leader). But in an early-days start-up that meant nothing. I was building our prospect lists, and writing our sales emails, and the lines were definitely blurred along the way as we fought to bring in anything we could for the account executives to close.

But it’s funny, because it didn’t really feel like it was a thing that we were a female-led sales team. It wasn’t something we talked about. There was never a question of ‘let’s discuss our female perspectives in sales’.

I didn’t wake up in the morning thinking, ‘I’m a woman… a woman in sales!’

All we cared about was crushing the work. Bringing in the leads and meeting our targets.

These women that we had in sales positions during the early days, in Mel, Kat, and then Erin, they are some of the most competitive people that I’ve ever met. You could throw them in a room full of guys, and they are going to want to crush every single person in the room. 

They want to beat whoever they are up against. Including each other. 

If you want to see Erin in action, you can check out a webinar she led about objection handling here.

Is sales the great equalizer?

There is a saying that ‘sales is the great equalizer’, and there is some truth to that. 

In the SDR role specifically, it’s a job where effort in, equals results out. The person that’s going to work the hardest, that’s going to aim for excellence, is going to try to get better, is hungry to learn everyday, and is going to put the time in, they’re going to succeed. 

I love the simplicity of this equation. There’s no bias; your success is determined by concrete data. In fact, Xactly’s report showed that on average, women met their sales quota 86% of the time, while men did so 78% of the time. 

Performance numbers don’t discriminate by gender.

I mean, our top salesperson is a woman. I really appreciate the awareness of ‘Women in Sales Month’, yet it’s funny because if we have a woman atop of our leaderboard for all of Q3 then is it ‘Women in Sales Quarter’? Do we also get to celebrate ‘Women in Sales Year’?

Erin winning salesperson of the ...

Then again, how can sales be a great equalizer if the candidates that apply for roles are so imbalanced? How is it a great equalizer if women only make up 12% of senior sales positions?

The struggle to maintain a diverse sales team has become a far bigger challenge as we have grown at Klue. We’re now hiring at such a fast velocity that the disparity in male to female applicants becomes very apparent.

When sifting through applications for the SDR role, I go through roughly ten male applicants to every one female applicant. Frankly, it makes me sad. Why aren’t women applying for these roles?

It’s hard not to get discouraged when reports like the Harvard Business Review are released. They note that despite women making up over half of the college-educated workforce, they hold less than one-third of the B2B sales jobs. 

Sales is driven by numbers, but these ones just don’t seem to add up.

We need to believe that diversity is an asset

In order to build an equitable sales team, you need to believe that diversity is in fact an asset.

Personally, I have a fundamental belief that teams are more successful the more diverse that they are. And I’m not just speaking about gender.

We should have teams that possess an array of perspectives, backgrounds, belief systems, genders, and race. I want our teams to reflect our society and how we want our communities to look. 

If we look the same, talk the same, and think the same way, then we won’t get a different approach to problem solving.

What will elevate us is when we have more perspectives, not more of the same perspective.

Klue sales meeting

So, what are some things that we are trying to do to create a more diverse team?

A big thing for us at Klue has been to look at our job descriptions and being cognizant of the language that’s in them. This is something that our VP of People, Kathy, brought to our attention when she joined us.

She looked at our job descriptions, and used software that allowed us to analyze the language that we’re putting in our descriptions, and if it’s accessible to people coming from different backgrounds, different experiences, and different genders. 

I remember when I was on the job hunt myself looking at job descriptions, and really trying to think ‘do I stack up’? Do I fit all the requirements? Women tend to not apply for jobs that they don’t think that they crush all the requirements for, whereas like men will more naturally apply for jobs, even if they don’t hit these requirements.

This is something we know that we can control. Our job descriptions cannot speak to only one type of person. 

Then there is also a question of how do we build a sales culture where everyone is welcome? It’s up to us to establish what breeds success in our company.

Our culture was built from those very early days, where a team of 1 marketer and two female SDRs put our heads together and built a pipeline engine that worked. We looked inwards every week with an honest thirst for data and knowledge on what could make us better and what had failed. Failures didn’t matter so long as we learned from them. This helped to shape a team that describes themselves as competitive, but very supportive, and informs the types of people who are successful at Klue – those that can put their ego aside. We want people who are willing to be wrong, don’t need to know it all but are curious enough to want to, and who relentlessly want to improve themselves and the company. 

Plus, we’ve always had an aversion to creating any sort of bro-ey culture that could be ostracizing to people. From day one, that would never have been cool. Thankfully, it never has had a chance to live or breathe in our company. 

It’s always been about creating something that is collaborative, but also competitive.

Let’s focus on intentions

Initiatives like ‘Women in Sales Month’ and Unbounce’s recent ‘Pay up for Progress’ campaign’ are incredibly important. We want to be a part of these initiatives that not only raise awareness, but also to remind us to stop for a moment and take a look at ourselves.

Cutting down others for executional failures or standing on a soapbox yelling ‘look at how many female sales reps we have!’ diminishes the cause as a whole.

Because at Klue, we’re not perfect. No company is. 

What is more important than achieving perfection is being intentional. Do we have a process of looking inwards and asking if we’re doing enough? Are we reviewing our hiring process and who it attracts? What is the culture that we’re building and who would feel a part of it?

Klue team celebrate winning 'Startup of the Year' at BC Tech awards

These initiatives create spaces where we’re forced to self-evaluate. Although we may feel fine about our process day-to-day, there is always a need to zoom out and reflect on how we operate as an organization.

Now, I do feel lucky that naturally and organically we’ve had females in leadership positions and specifically in sales leadership roles at Klue. It really helps when top-down, you have people bought into making sure that there is diversity at the leadership level. 

As we continue to grow, some of those external pressures will inevitably emerge for us. Especially if there are consistently ten male applicants to every one woman applicant and we need to meet our growth targets. I’m not naïve to the fact that it is a reality we have to face, but I hope that we can continue to be intentional when we think about the make-up of our team and who feels included in it.