In McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report, a significant portion of women identified with not feeling as if the entirety of their work was recognized.
In my experience with women in sales, their performance is undeniable purely due to the objective nature of sales performance – it’s a number! It’s called out on forecasting calls, end of quarter rewards, celebrated at President’s Clubs, and overall recognized!
However, when it comes to promotions there’s a feeling of “being invisible” that’s a common feeling women report.
Some women have commented it feels like something invisible, or they are invisible when it comes to promotion.
The data backs this up. Women perform just as well as men. Yet promotion rates for females in sales are distinctly different.
Hired in at nearly the same entry level rates, women and men are not promoted at the same rates. There’s a distinct difference – starting at the first opportunity – Manager.
We see revenue leadership as the third largest gender gap in corporate.
Fewer than 1 in 4 women in sales hold leadership positions in 2023.
However, sales performance is on point, and organizations with female leaders are more profitable businesses.
I’m not advocating that women should be the only gender in leadership – far from it. The key is equal opportunity. Gender balance, inclusivity at the top, promotions regardless of gender/non gender conformity/ etc. Leadership promotions based on inclusive leadership styles – not traditional leadership styles.
It’s widely known that there is a skills gap existing in sales management – the “top performers are promoted” but don’t necessarily make the best leaders. But are the “top performers” promoted, or is it many times the “top performing males?”
So, all of this contributes to the invisible feeling women are reporting.
Who’s to blame? I feel strongly that the powers in charge of leadership promotion are not intending to further a gender gap. Humans are not intending to hold anyone back is my experience.
We do have to realize that there’s a tendency of males to socialize with males, and to be fair- a tendency for women to bond with other women.
This is for a variety of reasons- we like the familiar, we potentially don’t want to have any actions misconstrued as sexual, we feel more comfortable with “people like us.”
What this does is allow us to become more familiar and comfortable with the same sex. When this happens in a boss / subordinate situation, it allows the boss to get to know that subordinate more, see their potential and build trust. They have a management role open up, that person is a high performer, and suddenly boom- you have another sales manager.
Sometimes it’s that simple – not a lot of thought going into it. There’s no conspiracy to have an all male leadership team.
This is what leads to unconscious bias.
The way I’m proposing we keep our human nature in check is to both look at performance data objectively, and track gender equity in promotions. Incent gender balance in promotions. Hold executives accountable for relatively equal velocity of gender balanced promotions.
Start tracking progress as an organization!
The fear here is publishing the current state would drive away good talent and tarnish the reputation of the company.
What about publishing the % improvement year over year?
Not addressing unconscious bias in sales leadership is going to have the following effects:
1)as more attention is called to this issue, your organization is going to be seen as an antiquated brand
2) High potential sales talent is going to leave the organization and perform for competitors
3)Companies are going to be left with a small talent pool of females
4)As gender equity progresses with client companies, more buyers will be female – and chances are they will want to buy from more gender equitable vendors, so you have high potential to lose out on potential sales
5)Female leaders on average do more with less, and are more profitable. You will have less qualified candidates who are in the pipeline to manage a P&L
So what if the leaders in an organization are not taking steps to address unconscious bias? What can individuals do to actively overcome gender bias in revenue leadership?
Here are a few things I’ve heard women doing to address this:
Internal to the company:
1. Gaining a super mega champion who sees their potential and has respect of the people who can create / influence promotions
2. Find someone in the company who “sees” them for their contributions and move out of their current team, maybe develop skills in another area in order to switch teams and gain the recognition they deserve
3. Develop respect and rapport with their team so firmly that the team recommends them as their leader
4. Changing companies if they see they cannot identify or have line of sight to a champion – they change to a company with more promise4. Change teams to a non sales environment so that their presentation and communication skills help them stand out as a leader and get promoted to a higher level another way
5. Gain trust through a working relationship with their client, and go work for their client
What else have you seen be a successful strategy in the workplace?
McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2022