For the past few years, I’ve wondered what people outside of the Sales world perceive of sales people – especially women – in this profession. This is a timely topic, coming up in the midst of Axosoft’s viral campaign, #ItWasNeverADress, which challenges people to think about females outside of their stereotypical gender norms and seeks to empower women (especially those in the tech industry). But really… what is it like to be a woman in Sales? Are we also expected to conform to perceived social norms?
To answer this question, I took to my very honest Facebook community to ask what adjectives come to mind when you hear the word “sales”. Here were some of the responses:
competitive, ambitious, competent, intuitive
How about when these same people describe WOMEN in sales? The responses changed slightly (and hopefully not because my mom was a part of the poll): beautiful, tolerant, compassionate, persuasive, and fierce/cutthroat were some of the descriptions.
The fact that the adjectives changed at all when describing “sales in general” vs. “females in sales” is concerning.
I remember when I was first exposed to the Sales world. I was working at a commercial bank, initially as a teller, but – due to my awesomeness and super sweet skills – I quickly moved up into the role of Personal Banker. Out of 5 people that could take managerial/personal banking positions at my branch, I was the ONLY female; the rest of the females at my branch were behind the teller line. My first experience with true gender stereotypes in the workplace was in this role at my male-dominated branch. There was an older couple who came in to ask questions about an investment. They sat at my desk as I clearly and confidently explained how the process worked. Apparently, they didn’t like what I had to say, so they asked me to get someone else to speak with. My male colleague came over and explained exactly what I just explained to the customers, yet somehow his words were more comforting to them.
Where does this perception come from? A Women’s Studies course I took at the University of Rhode Island introduced me to the notion of Social Construction – a concept I found particularly interesting. The idea of women and men having gender norms is taught to us by our parents/guardians and reinforced by anything and everything we encounter as we grow and learn as individuals. Girls wear pink, boys wear blue. Girls play with dolls, boys play with trucks. Girls are passive, boys are dominant. But is being a woman in sales a bad thing? I don’t think so! According to society, women are more nurturing, but I think this is a plus in an industry where the client needs to be 110% happy and needs to feel like you truly care about them.
This is just one of many examples. So, how do we move forward from this perception? Let’s start by peaking women’s interest in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math). These male-dominated fields NEED women; they need them for a different perspective, they need them to carry the torch for other women looking to achieve success in STEAM fields and they need them because, well, women are smart, savvy and capable.
What do you think about gender norms that exist in your field of work or life in general? Share your story via Twitter and let’s discuss!
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