It’s 2019, So Why Aren’t We Seeing More Women in Tech Sales?
Contributed by Karen Glanzberg, Content Developer at Traction on Demand
If you’re a Millennial or Gen X-er woman who grew up in Canada, chances are you were raised to think, “I can do anything.” After a history of repression, our mothers burned their bras, picked up their briefcases and headed to work. In the span of two generations, the majority of women in Canada went from being at home to participating in the labour market. Despite the gains made by women in the workforce, we are still being underrepresented in the tech sector. According to a Women in Tech World study, only a quarter of the industry is represented by women. And while the majority of those women define their work as being technical, only 10% of those women work in business development and sales.
Sales is undeniably dominated by men. It brings to mind images of alpha males doing whatever they can to seal the deal. And while the gender divide may still exist in certain workplaces, it’s a scenario that has been changing within tech organizations like Traction on Demand, based in Burnaby, British Columbia. Claudine Dixon, Enterprise Business Development Manager, and Samantha Turley, Regional Vice President of Business Development at the cloud software consultancy and app development firm, say both a general awareness of the unique perspectives women have, as well as support from employers, are needed to set them up for success in sales. And they should know what it takes; out of the five top sellers at Traction on Demand currently, they are two of the three women with this distinction.
Traction on Demand top performers Claudine Dixon (left), Enterprise Business Development Manager; and Samantha Turley (right), Regional Vice President of Business Development
NATURE VS. NURTURE
The ongoing gender debate seeks to answer whether women and men are inherently pre-wired to be a certain way or whether outside factors, such as societal norms, influence a person’s way of being. While one side of the argument believes we are born as a blank slate, Claudine and Samantha say we can’t discount the unique perspectives women bring to the workplace.
For the last four quarters at Traction on Demand, the top sellers have all been women, despite making up just 25% of the sales team. There are many variables at play but it suggests women bring something different to the sales cycle. “Fundamentally, we have incredibly different working backgrounds but we both have a great nurturing, empathetic quality,” says Samantha of herself and Claudine. “The way I sell is based on my strongest qualities, which happen to lean towards the qualities typically associated with my gender.” Claudine adds to this idea by saying she attributes her success in business to being “incredibly relationship-based,” while using her intuition and curiosity to navigate the sales cycle. “These qualities are not necessarily gendered,” Samantha explains, “but, as women, we are encouraged to be active in that space, rather than be masculine or strong.”
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: MOTHERHOOD
According to a Statistics Canada survey, 82% of women between the ages of 25 to 54 years participated in the labour market in 2015. Sixty-five years earlier, in 1950, that figure was 22%. But even though the majority of women now work outside the home, they are still the primary caregivers and housekeepers inside the home. Additionally, in the last couple years, much has been said about emotional labour, the “other” work that women take on, such as making and remembering appointments, buying gifts for the extended family and managing the children’s schedules. It’s a lot, and it puts an additional burden on women in the workplace. In this way, “A stereotypical male parent in a sales role can look very different from a female parent in the same role,” says Claudine.
The effects of maternity leave on a woman’s career in any industry most certainly deserve their own article, but it’s worth mentioning the data shows that women’s careers are interrupted more frequently than men’s careers, and for longer periods of time. You don’t have to be a researcher to guess what this means for women, although the Harvard Business Review says it quite succinctly, “the ability to take one’s full parental leave without suffering diminishing one’s promotion, pay, or leadership prospects is crucial for greater gender equality in the workplace and for helping all working parents, and in particular mothers, achieve greater work-life balance.”
THE EMPLOYER’S RESPONSIBILITY
What role does the workplace play in breaking down gender barriers?According to Samantha and Claudine, a significant one. As Claudine explains, “You come into Traction on Demand very much feeling like an equal and feeling like you’re given the opportunity to shine whether you’re male or female.” She looks back at a time in her previous job when she was the only female manager in a roomful of her male peers. “In other places you feel the need to prove yourself.”
Samantha points to a culture of honesty and transparency at Traction on Demand that improves the working condition for everyone, not just women, in sales. “Here, we’re really encouraged to dive deeper within ourselves,” she says. “The men let themselves be more vulnerable because the organization allows them to explore another way of selling — it’s more relationship-based.” In this way, Samantha explains that Traction on Demand is moving away from being a typical example of what a sales organization is. “It allows people to be their authentic selves and figure out their own way of selling. It helps even the playing field.”
Samantha (middle left) and Claudine (right) share a light moment with their team while reviewing business development opportunities at Traction on Demand.
WHERE ARE ALL THE WOMEN?
For Andrew Buckley, Executive Vice President of Sales Operations at Traction on Demand, it’s all about breaking the fear factor that’s associated with working in tech sales. Although a lot has changed since he started working in the industry, Andrew says he still interviews nine men for every woman. “Being in tech a long time, this issue has been one of the greatest eye openers for me: how much hidden talent rests in 50% of the population who don’t currently put themselves forward for a role in which they would probably be very successful.” Despite the low number of applicants, he says technology is making it easier than ever for mothers to consider working at a place where they can work remotely, rather than having to adhere to a grueling sales travel schedule.
When the company Andrew previously worked for was acquired 15 years ago, its pro-female sales team was all of a sudden merged with a sales team of 200 men. Only men. An intimidating scenario for many women. “We have to break the fear factor by being open to women’s natural skill sets, showing that they have a powerful voice in our organization, encouraging them to balance family and work, and allowing them to lean in as much as they want to, but on their terms.” Andrew says Traction on Demand has had incredible success in hiring women, and not just because of what they bring to the sales team. “It’s evolved our culture in a way that’s been really awesome too.”
CLIMBING OUT OF THE PIGEONHOLE
Even in the age of “I can do anything” and top-selling female business development managers, there are stereotypes that just won’t die. As Samantha says, “We still have biases about what it means to be a nurse versus a doctor. We need to move away from the title or stereotype of people in any position and look more at the skills needed to do that job.” To many people, Samantha doesn’t look like the “typical” sales person, but she points to the skills she acquired while studying music and working in the nonprofit sector as helping her excel in her role.
“You don’t have to have a story about yourself in which all the typical boxes are ticked. I want employers to move away from that and look at the myriad of life experiences everyone has and the challenging things they’ve done. I want them to look at the qualities of individuals rather than at degrees or past work history.” But to Samantha, seeing more women in tech sales is about more than just relying on employers to do the right thing. “Women have been working to uplift women, and there will be a transformation when men give women the space and the opportunity to do that.”
Let’s continue uplifting one another:
- Join www.makepossible.ca FREE mentoring network to develop skills and share expertise
- Participate in the Jan 22nd Women’s Roundtable Workshop hosted by SCWIST and ICTC
- Watch for updates from the sold-out January 16th Diversity and Inclusion: Going Beyond Gender to Build a Winning Team including speaker Manu Varma from Traction on Demand
Traction on Demand participated in a SCWIST Diversity by Design Workshop in 2018, as part of the Make DIVERSITY Possible project. SCWIST is working with STEM companies to develop tools to attract diverse talent and to build inclusive workplace cultures – that embrace and advance a diverse workforce.