Developing diversity on sales teams: in conversation with #GirlsClub’s Margaret Weniger

Collin Stewart, CEO

6 March 2019

The stereotype of a sales team, despite all the changes and advancements in the industry over the years, remains a male dominated image.

Some might even describe that stereotype as a locker room, or frat-house scene: young, caffeinated male sales professionals, banging gongs after a close, and regularly partying to celebrate company growth.

Of course, the reality of the current sales climate, while still gong-y in some respects I’m sure, is much different. Sales teams are specialized, comprised of professionals from a host of different backgrounds, and more accepting of different working styles.

We’ve come a long way, but, according to #GirlsClub executive director Margaret Weniger, we’ve still got a long way to go. The march towards diversity, inclusion, and, ultimately, equality is a long one.

“It starts with attracting a diverse audience and then hiring the best people. That is the key. It’s not just about hiring women, per se,” says Weniger, on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

“So it’s crucial to do your best not to limit getting the best candidates for a role in your company.”

Recognizing the need for diversity

Too often, diversity in the workforce, in particular on sales teams, becomes a focus when it is clear diversity has not been achieved. It’s an easy mistake, in some respects: when you’re growing quickly, and you need a team in place, keeping the important nuances of hiring top of mind (selecting diverse candidates, crafting job descriptions to appeal to a wide audience…) can be a challenge.

It’s easy to revert to traditional hiring practices.

But, says Weniger, young companies have a great opportunity to implement a culture of diversity early on so when they grow it isn’t a concept they have to consider retroactively. Diversity would be baked in.

“Companies early on have an amazing opportunity. When you’re around 5 employees you can commit and be dedicated to diversity. If you don’t, you will have to come back to it,” says Weniger.

“There is now a lot of literature around the power of having women executives. Companies are run more efficiently, and on sales teams, women routinely outperform their male counterparts. So, there are lots of reasons to have diversity, and that different point of view. Investing in diversity from the ground floor will directly correlate to revenue.”

Attracting diverse candidates

In Sheryl Sandberg’s monumental book Lean In, she discussed a case study that HP initiated, in the hopes of better understanding what male applicants responded to vs. what female responded to during the application process.

For those that haven’t read the book: male applicants are comfortable applying for a job even if they don’t believe they satisfy all of the skills requirements and background expectations of a job. On the other hand, female applicants don’t feel comfortable applying for job postings unless they believe they satisfy all of the expectations outlined in the posting.

Their answer? They took out all of the non-essential pieces in their job postings because, by doing so, they would increase the applicant field. The less they said, the less potential applicants would have to discourage them.

“This was a really great method. But another aspect to this is looking at the words used in job profiles. Words like “expert,” often used in company profiles and job postings, are considered masculine terms,” says Weniger.

“Words can be engaging or off-putting to women. So, ask the women in your company – what language appeals to them? Hear from your own people. Language is huge.”

(Editor’s note: we chatted with Ryan Wong a while back on how he uses LinkedIn to prospect for talent. You can read about our chat here, or listen to the full interview here.)

Retaining female colleagues

Knowing that you can grow in the company your work for – take on more responsibility, get promoted, and, eventually, ascend to company leadership, is a goal a lot of people hold dear. The drive that makes a great salesperson also, often, makes people want to climb the corporate ladder.

But think about this: if your company’s leadership is entirely, or primarily, men, what signal are you sending to female colleagues and female candidates? How do you think that signal makes them feel about their long-term prospects in your organization?

“The great news is that in the last few years there have been some very good discussions about how to get women into sales. But, there has been very little about retaining women. Career growth is huge for everybody,” says Weniger.

“The number 1 thing women look at is who works on the executive team. A lot of companies publish their executive teams and if it is all men, that sends the wrong message. So, while you can’t change that straight away, you may not want to advertise it. Women want to grow in their careers, and seeing that executive leadership composition can seem limiting. Women vote with their employment. They may not discuss it, but they will eventually leave the company.”

When Weniger was with SalesLoft (where she was Director of Sales Development), the company had three female leaders highlighted on their website. It was a culture the company was proud of, so they displayed it.

And it resonated with female applicants.

“The company had done a great job setting the foundation for that great culture. And, as a result, we attracted great talent,” says Weniger.

“Female interviewees, to a fault, mentioned that they loved that I ran the sales team. And I know people were looking at our site and seeing three female leaders at the time. That went a long way.”

Nuanced incentives is another avenue to consider for retaining top-performing female colleagues. Often, sales teams are spiffed each month, or each quarter, to light a fire and make sure everyone hits their numbers.

But, how often are you spiffing your team with hockey tickets? When was the last time you considered changing up how you incentivize your sales team?

“Go above and beyond and ask what would resonate with women to incentivize and inspire them. Then, proactively address that. Address the work you have to do on your culture and environment. That is huge,” says Weniger.

“Involve women in your company – this is the key. Show them that you value them.”

For more of Weniger’s thoughts on hiring a diverse sale steam, her sales journey, and the work of #GirlsClub, check out the rest of her interview on The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

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