Men Vs Women in Sales


The statement is always preceded by some version of “not to sound biased” or “not to sound sexist” or “not to cross any legal lines” BUT…

In recruiting, we hear this constantly when going over the wants of a position. I sit and listen to the typical statements of university degrees and years of experience and industry experience (FYI, none of which are actual hiring criteria). Eventually, the conversation will end up with some realm of gender preference, prefaced by the desire to not break the law…of course.

Except prefacing a sexist statement by saying you are not trying to be sexist, doesn’t really count.

Within these biases, it is interesting to hear the thoughts of hiring managers, particularly in sales. There are some trends that I think should be addressed…

Preference for Female Sales People

This is an interesting one. Most people assume that the biases will have a high probability of being towards hiring men. For practitioner sales roles though, I receive more requests for female candidates than males candidates. They don’t ask for exclusively females but do list female candidates as a plus because they lack female representation on their sales teams.

Personally, I feel a sense of conflict with this. On one side, I’m happy to see companies seeking diversity among their staff. On the other hand, I’m not typically asked to seek other types of diversity like exploring other related professional backgrounds or any sort of regional/cultural diversity or even knowledge/skill diversity!

Is gender bias perceived less controversial than other biases or is gender equality a top priority? I don’t know the answer to this, but the perspective on this truly matters.

Where it certainly crosses the line, though, is when I’m told females are preferred in sales roles, as long as they are attractive. Rest assured ASG tribe, we DO NOT recruit for companies in this category. The justification offered for such a request is typically something like, “Not for me of course. I work well with everyone. But historically, attractive women sell better with our clientele.”

Our recruiting methodology does not include gender as a criterion. When hiring managers begin to list irrelevant criteria like college degrees and years of experience and gender…we redirect and educate them on truly identifying the actual performance requirements. Our goal and theirs is to find the best candidate possible.

Leadership is Where Things Get Tricky

At this point in time, I’ve never been asked for specifically male candidates in leadership roles, but there are some verbiage slips that demonstrate the bias. Little things like…

RECRUITER: I have a new great candidate for your VP of Sales Role!

HIRING MANAGER: Great! I can’t wait to meet him! Will you send me his info today?

While it is annoying to say “him/her” verbally and incorrect to really say “their/them”…the go-to pronoun when thinking of a leader is male.

Research backs this up. The Harvard Business Review did a 4-month study with sensors to try and uncover the reasons why females make up only 20% of leadership. Their study truly showed that the work behaviors and competencies were no different between males and females. Each group had the same statistics with work ethic, communication, productivity, etc…

If the work output is the same, where does the bias stem from?

The answer can be boiled down into a single word: perception. Author BJ Gallagher outlines some of this perception difference in her “How to Tell a Male Boss From a Female Boss.”

Here are a few from BJ Gallagher on behavior perception:

— A male boss is attentive to details; a female boss is picky.

— He knows how to follow through; she doesn’t know when to quit.

— He isn’t afraid to say what he thinks; she’s mouthy.

— He’s a man of action; she’s impulsive.

— He controls his emotions; she’s cold.

— He thinks before he speaks; she second-guesses herself.

— He tells it like it is; she’s tactless.

Shifting the Perception

Social perception is certainly not going to change overnight, but there are things you can do to get your hiring and leadership headed in the right direction.

First, hiring criteria needs to be based on the ability to do the job well and skill diversity. Download our Sales Team Assessment to start looking at the entire team…

Second, when considering a group of candidates for a role, create a final project for the candidates to submit (something that pertains to the role). Have the projects evaluated by a panel who do not know anything about the candidates, including names. This type of blind evaluation reduces bias and emphases work quality.

Lastly, build a work culture with a coaching approach and respect. When leaders begin to build trusting relationships with their people, the bias-perception should start to shift away from stereotypes and into real relationships.

Braedi Leigh