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Sales Leadership: Where Are All the Women?

Sales teams don't employ enough senior women – despite the proven benefit this has – and pay them a shockingly smaller amount than men

The sales function is the lifeblood of many corporations. Without a strong sales team, great products and wonderful ideas don’t make it to prospects, and prospects don’t turn into customers.

Senior sales mangers looking for a competitive edge may be overlooking one blindingly obvious area of potential advantage – adding more women to their sales leadership teams.

Just as obviously, this isn’t about a battle of women versus men, but about how gender diversity increases the range of perspectives at the leadership table and improves company performance.

Why There Are So Few Women in Senior Sales Positions

  1. There are fewer women to choose from as you move up through the ranks: CEB data show that, globally, women represent 4 of 10 entry level sales employees, 3 in 10 first- and mid-level management roles, and 2 in 10 department head or general manager type roles.

    To put it bluntly, sales functions are doing a miserable job of retaining and developing talent through the “pipeline.” If they don’t already, sales leaders should get hold of this statistic for their own function and, if they’re losing qualified female employees, do something about it.

  2. The sales function is almost the worst in a company for hiring women leaders: That 2 in 10 figure compares poorly to other functions.

    Very poorly, in fact: nearly 5 of 10 leaders are women in finance, communications, customer service, and HR functions. And R&D, Operations, Procurement, Manufacturing, IT, and Engineering have more women leaders than sales. Only Supply Chain and Logistics is less diverse – a function led by men 83% of the time, compared to Sales at 81%.

  3. Women in sales earn $25,301 less than their male counterparts, despite achieving higher goals: Sales leaders don’t aim to produce an egalitarian environment. The theory is that, if you’re good and hit your goal, you’re promoted. Data from a partnership between CEB and Xactly disproves this fairly comprehensively:

    First – what’s at stake? Men and women are starting with a pretty similar commission rate – 4.8% vs 4.1% – so both have a similar amount of incentive to do well.

    Next – what about total pay? Men earn $25,301 more than their female counterparts annually. Over 4 years, that’s a $101,204 gap. So, this suggests that women in sales must be significantly out-performed by men, and that might just explain the huge leadership gap.

    Although it doesn’t. In fact, average quota attainment is 3% higher for women (67% for men and 70% for women, on average). If the pay gap is this large and not correlated with sales performance, it is likely there are many other “broken windows” that women face to get a fair shot at promotions. In today’s information age, everyone should examine their company’s data, and assess how well each gender is paid for similar performance.

The Importance of Gender Diversity in Sales Leadership

Having a balanced leadership team matters for countless reasons; here’s four.

  1. Companies with gender diverse leadership outperform: There are numerous studies about gender diversity and better performance. Add to that a Credit Suisse study that analyzed 28,000 executives across 3,000 companies in 40 countries – the largest study of its kind focusing on management within companies. It found that more women in management led to 27% higher return on equity and 42% higher dividend payments.

  2. Women make up more than 50% of graduates: Sales teams rely on knowledge workers and have to compete with a host of other functions for the same people. The company that hires people mainly of one gender risks losing good employees to a more inclusive, diverse workforce.

  3. Women are increasingly influential buyers: As other corporate functions become more diverse, B2B sales teams that remain homogeneous are putting themselves in a position to be left behind. B2C teams know that 80% of consumer purchasing power is harnessed by women – missing their perspective at the leadership table in B2B or B2C industries can lead to costly mistakes.

  4. Customers demand diverse suppliers: Progressive procurement and purchasing departments are increasingly examining supplier diversity as part of their score carding and vendor evaluation process.

As Warren Buffett once wrote, “We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about our future.”

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