Women around the world enjoy pouring themselves a cup of ambition and trying to make it big in the sales world. But how fair is the sales world, really, to women? Do women get the promotions they deserve whether they’re working 9-5 or longer hours?
According to the 2018 U.S. Census, the answer is no. The U.S. sales industry has the second-highest pay gap between women and men. The highest pay gap in the country is between men and women in finance.
That spells bad news for women who want to, or who are currently trying to, make a large income in sales. Being prepared for the challenges women in sales face is the first step to closing this gap. Equal pay for equal work is essential in a modern world. Here are five problems women in sales face and potential solutions to each.
Problem #1: Systemic Flaws
Unfortunately, one of the top problems that women have in business is that they simply haven’t been allowed to, or had the opportunity to, establish their place for as long as men have. Women who don’t have relationships with clients passed on from mother to daughter, for example, are at a disadvantage. Fathers who pass on their clients to sons are giving their sons an advantage that women just don’t have.
Speaking of sons and daughters, let’s take a look at motherhood. Women have faced hiring discrimination for decades because employers do not want to hire, train, and pay someone who will be temporarily gone for maternity leave. They sometimes even attempt to fire women while they are gone on maternity leave. This is illegal now, but it has been a problem that’s prevented women from having successful sales and business careers in the past. Maternity leave is a major issue that prevents women from leading successful sales careers.
Problem #2: Lack Of Networking Opportunities
Because there have historically been fewer women than men in business, there are fewer women to go to for networking opportunities. That means fewer women mentors are available, which is especially bad news for young women who are just starting out in their careers.
Connections are extremely important in the sales world. While it’s important to have a mentor for support, simply knowing more people in the sales world who can help you change companies, for example, is useful and can lead to a more lucrative career. Networking opportunities can be hard to come by for women in sales.
Problem #3: Unconscious Bias
Women tend to be undervalued in the workplace, especially considering that they meet their sales quotas more often than men do! Someone holds an unconscious bias when they do not know that they have a set of attitudes or beliefs about a person or group of people, and these attitudes/beliefs are not based on reality.
Many men hold common, stereotypical unconscious biases about women in the workplace. Examples include, “Women can’t be trusted because of their hormones,” and “She can’t deal with that client because he’s old school. We need a man to work with him.”
Unconscious biases are dangerous because if they are not recognized and addressed, they can turn into discrimination. If, for example, a supervisor never assigns a woman representative to a certain client, they are limiting the woman’s ability to do her job. It doesn’t matter if the supervisor thought he had good intentions; by preventing women from even trying, his unconscious bias is setting up (or perpetuating) problems from the start.
Note that women can also hold unconscious biases about other women. However, it’s much more common that men hold unconscious biases about women, and these biases affect their actions, women’s opportunities, and ultimately, their performance.
Problem #4: Unfair Business Environments
When many men in a company hold unconscious biases against women, it has a major impact on interpersonal relationships and on women’s attitude about what they can accomplish at work. Unconscious biases effect women during interactions, but it extends beyond moment-to-moment interactions.
For instance, women might not feel comfortable using office equipment or going into the break room because they fear an awkward or unpleasant encounter. They might not speak up in meetings because they fear that they will not be taken seriously. Women might also feel uncertain on business trips because they do not have a support system in place.
Sometimes, companies will require a man to partner up with a woman, even if another woman could have filled that role or if the woman could have accomplished the task on her own. These are all examples of how unconscious biases work to create unfair business environments that prevent women from feeling safe and empowered at work.
Problem #5: Imposter Syndrome
While we’ve looked at major external forces that create problems for women in sales, we haven’t considered one important internal force: imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the untrue belief that you aren’t good enough to accomplish something, even though there is evidence that suggests you are.
Imposter syndrome affects women much more than men. It creates insecurities that lead women to take fewer risks, risks which could pay off and help decrease (and ultimately, eliminate) the gender pay gap.
Women in sales need to fight imposter syndrome by taking a look at all the hard work they’ve put in and the rewards they’ve reached. Take time to be proud of how far you’ve come and what you’ve accomplished. Then, take that positive attitude and energy and put it to work.
Women face many challenges in the work place, including systemic flaws, a lack of networking opportunities, unconscious bias, unfair work environments, and imposter syndrome. These five problems can be resolved if both men and women work together to fix them.
Equal pay for equal work is extremely important, and creating an environment where more women will want to work is also essential to eliminating the gender pay gap. Despite the challenges they face, women can led rewarding careers in sales.