AA-ISP Continues its Support for Women in Sales Leadership

Have you ever heard a sexist joke in the workplace and let it go unchallenged? Then you might be part of the problem, according to at least one audience member at the AA-ISP Frontline Conference held on June 10th in Denver. The AA-ISP is an international association dedicated to the advancement of the Inside Sales profession. “Given the huge growth of Inside Sales, we face a shortage of qualified mid-to-senior-level leaders. We are in need of more leaders preparing to take on this challenge, especially women,” said Bob Perkins, AA-ISP Founder and Chairman.

The person who drew attention to workplace sexism spoke at a break-out panel on women in leadership hosted by Trish Bertuzzi, CEO and Chief Strategist at The Bridge Group. The panel also featured Sandy Anderson, Managing Principal at Illuminate Sales Potential; Bridget Gleason, Vice President of Sales at Yesware; and Kyle Porter, CEO and Founder at SalesLoft.

It was obvious from the start that the topic of women in leadership resonated with all attendees. The panelists fielded questions from the audience on differences between men and women, women in leadership positions, and unconscious biases in hiring.  An audience member began the conversation by remarking that the differences between men and women may have more to do with socialization than biology. She then posed a question to the panel: what can we do to ensure that women are not socialized into different careers based solely on their sex? Bertuzzi responded that sales has traditionally been a male-dominated career, while marketing has traditionally been a female-dominated one. This is partly because colleges have not offered sales majors until relatively recently. However, more colleges are beginning to do so, and should continue to do so in order for women to more easily break into sales. Bertuzzi also argued that women can use some of their differences with men to their advantage. One such difference is that women tend to be more empathetic than men, a trait which is enormously useful in sales when attempting to connect with a prospect.

One difference that works to women’s disadvantage, according to Anderson, is that men are typically better at asking for things. Bertuzzi concurred, saying that a man will apply for a job if he has 70% of the required skills listed, while women will only apply if they have 100%. When IBM CEO Ginni Rometty was offered the job, she asked her husband, “Can I do this?” He responded, “No man would ask that,” prior to her taking the job.

Pushing themselves to set their sights as high as men do is one focus of many women’s networking groups, which one audience member encouraged other women to get involved with. Gleason agreed that women’s groups are important, but added that women should not just isolate themselves to these groups. It’s equally important for women to be part of groups where they have been traditionally underrepresented, like vice president forums.

Women are underrepresented in leadership roles in general, another audience member commented. She went on to so say that one thing she looks for when applying for a job is whether there are women in leadership roles at the company in question, since she is better able to grow professionally under other women. The presence of women in leadership roles is also proof that other women have the opportunity to advance to those positions in the future.

The lack of women in leadership roles is partly attributable to unconscious biases in the hiring process, since company leaders (mostly men) tend to hire in their own image, argued Gleason. Porter agreed. He said that in order to reduce the influence of these biases at SalesLoft, they established core attributes required of job applicants – like being positive, supportive, and self-starting – before they started hiring. Because they hired people based on these attributes and not simply in their own image, three-fifths of SalesLoft’s divisions are currently run by women.

The latest research by the AA-ISP indicates finding good leaders is a top challenge.  While the AA-ISP will continue to support women in leadership roles through its conference series, mentor program, and other opportunities, more companies should take after SalesLoft’s example. Only then can we begin to ensure that women are fully represented in sales leadership positions.

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