Gender bias – Women In Sales

Mercuri Apprenticeships’ UK MD Barry Hilton hosted a webinar with two of our Sales Apprentices, Lynn Siggins from Rockwell Automation and Chaninah Dzialoszynski from BSI, along with Hannah Saddington from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Julie Nicholson from CCS Media and Alison Matthias from the Association Professional Sales discussing Women In Sales.

Alison Matthias: Good morning and a very warm welcome, members and guests, to another webinar in the series from the Association of Professional Sales. We are delighted to have you with us this morning…As we go through this very interesting topic, you’ll no doubt have lots of comments and questions to ask. To accommodate this, we are making sure that we have some time at the end of the panel discussion and we will ask those on your behalf.

Diverse organizations are more successful

This morning’s topic is Women in Sales – Breaking Barriers. Obviously, as a professional body, we’re incredibly interested in this topic. Studies show that diverse organizations and teams are more successful than those who aren’t. We also know that whilst it’s roughly a 50/50 gender split at the vbeginning of people’s careers, this drops dramatically over time to more like 70/30 if not more of a drop. Therefore it’s something that we are interested to listen to, those people who are managing to work through this and change this.

With that in mind, we are delighted to welcome Barry Hilton of Mercuri International, along with the experienced panel of professional saleswomen. Barry has over 33 years experience in sales, 22 of them selling and he sold globally across pretty much all sectors and is a sought-after sales specialist. We’re really very grateful to have him here today with us. Right now, he’s focusing on distilling success of Mercuri’s groundbreaking Sales Executive Level 4 Apprenticeship qualification. They have done some fantastic work with this apprenticeship, and I’m looking to see its impact on the industry. We’re looking forward to hearing all the things that your panel has to say this morning. Without further ado, I will hand over to you and we’ll speak again at the end when we have some questions.

Women hold less than one third of B2B sales jobs

Barry: Thanks, Alison. Thank you. Joining me this morning on the panel are Julie, Chi, Lynn, and Hannah. All are in sales roles within their organizations, all are involved with professionalizing sales through apprenticeships in some form, and all can give firsthand perspectives on the topic of women in sales.

I think before we go into the panel discussion, it’s useful to contextualize the issues that we’re dealing with. What you can see is an extract from a Harvard Business Review article that although women make up just over half of the college-educated workforce, as Alison was mentioning there, they hold less than one-third of business to business sales jobs.

Now, that in itself is quite an interesting point. Is that through recruitment bias, or is it because for example, sales roles just simply don’t appeal to women, or the way that they’re portrayed or the way that they are advertised, they do not appeal to women to have that career.

I want to just drill into that a little bit more by saying that this is not an unsubstantiated claim by Harvard Business Review. In the research they have found that women in sales have a higher percentage success rate at achieving targets than their male counterparts. Now, that is quite a provocative statement and it does provide a brilliant springboard for our discussion this morning.

What’s impacting the process of selling?

What we’re going to do now is consider some generic issues. These are headlines that are universally applicable. They’re not restricted to women in sales, but they are significant because they impact the process of selling. The first one is this that the pace of change within the selling space, it was moving and changing anyway, selling as a profession, but it’s been massively accelerated by COVID-19 and actually, many organizations were not ready for that change.


The impact of technology and the emergency adoption of technology was generally unplanned within most companies and relatively poorly executed. I’m sure many of you will agree that we all had to just pick it up as we went along. What’s happened is that bad habits are actually forming and those have been reinforced by a lack of direction and guidance from employers and companies on how to use the technology, and this links to perhaps some of the strengths areas that women in sales have relative to those of men operating in the same roles.

The current pattern, and it’s interesting, we had to change the slide very much at the last minute because we were in a phase of ramp-up and now we’re in a phase of ramp-down due to the second lockdown, okay, maybe not in business terms completely, but certainly socially we are. That haphazard on-off stop-start approach that’s been enforced on us at the moment or inflicted on us is creating some confusion, and what you’ve got is a reaction in companies where it’s let’s do something, let’s do anything, let’s get started again, but at the same time, what that means is that very important and valuable sales opportunities are perhaps being squandered or sub-optimized.

The sales cycle

We’ve got this mentality of get things done very quickly, be very short term all that has been impacted or influenced by a wait and see attitude. There’s no clarity out there or there’s very little. This is the landscape and the backdrop that we’re operating against as companies. If we just look at what that’s doing to the sales cycle.

I think the sales cycle now has been interrupted and possibly permanently, and for those technical people or metallurgical people, everyone would probably know that metal has a yield point where if you stretch a piece of metal and then you take the stress or the tension off, it will go back to its original shape, but after you pass the yield point, it will not return to the original shape. I think where we are right now is we’re past the yield point and changes to the sales process and whatever happens in the future, we’re not going to return to the previous shape of the sales process or sales behaviors.

Attracting women into sales

With all that in mind, I’m going to start with a very interesting question which is directly related to the issue of women in sales and all the data you’ve seen so far. How could employers attract more women to apply for sales roles, but particularly in the STEM industries, so science, technology, engineering, mathematics? If I could maybe start, Chi with you, what’s your view about how employers could make sales roles more attractive?

Chaninah Dzialoszynski

Chaninah Dzialoszynski: I’ve only been in sales myself for three years now, I was always under the impression that sales was a more male-dominated environment because it was something you either had. You have the gift of the gab or you didn’t, there was no science behind it. It wasn’t something that you could learn. I think women tend to be more academic. I think if it was positioned that actually, this was something, a skill set that you could learn, this is something that you can nurture and develop, women would be more interested in sales, but it’s always been positioned as you have it or you don’t.

Barry: Right. Okay. That’s a really interesting point. I mean, I know that we’ve had some brief discussions before. Hannah, you have some fairly fixed views on that as well. How would you like to build on that point that Chi’s made?

Changing mindset

Hannah Saddington

Hannah Saddington: Well, I think that it’s about changing the mindset of people, isn’t it? I think in everything that we do, we sell, and although organizations do heavily invest in apprenticeships and internships and graduate schemes, which also attract people and talent pools at the right time, we need to also make sure that we’re helping in really being bold in raising awareness of what sales actually is because I think it’s misperceived within the younger generations when they’re moving through schools and universities, that it’s not necessarily the career that people would choose to do.

Although we capture the talent pools at the right time within apprenticeships and internships, and that’s great to do, it’s also good to make sure that we’re educating on what sales actually is.

Barry: That’s a really important point. If I could maybe come to you on this, Julie, because you’re very involved with young people coming into sales and I know that you’ve got a lot of experience with bringing young women into sales, and when we say young, we’re talking about just coming out of school and college, first jobs in some cases, what’s the employer message that your organization, CCS Media is delivering to these young women?

Julie Nicholson

Julie Nicholson: When we go out and speak to people at recruitment fairs, when we speak to local colleges and universities, it’s a level playing field.

“Sales has always had a big stigma like car sales and window selling, very male-dominated, talk of gift of the gab, but now we’re professionalizing sales and having some really strong female role models.”

Julie Nicholson, Head of Academies South, CCS Media

If you’ve got the application and the effort, we’re broadening now on the spectrum to people with higher academic qualifications that they can come in and it is a foundation degree. It’s open to everybody.

Barry: Okay. That’s really interesting. I just want to pick up on one point there. When you are articulating that message to young women who maybe are completely unfamiliar with sales, what was the general response? What was the initial response?

The importance of role models

Julie: They’re quite receptive. I think it’s because you put it in such a way. If you’re talking to them in an open forum and we bring other people in, especially having the role models there is key. For example, within our organization, we have one lady who came in and did a really successful apprenticeship and has now moved up and is managing a team. For us, that’s a really strong role model to go and speak to everybody and say, “Look, I’ve done it and now I’m progressing up the ranks,” and it’s a here and now for them, whereas I’ve been in this industry a lot longer, so they can relate more to people at their level and they can see that they’re doing it successfully straight away.

Barry: Structure, clarity, probably career path’s important and that’s a great link to you, Lynn, because you have been in your role for a significant amount of time, were a trailblazer within your own organization as a woman engineer, and now involved in sales and have been for a long time. What would you add to that perspective?

Lynn Siggins

Lynn Siggins: My environment is slightly different. I’m actually a technical salesperson so the environment that I’m in is very, very male-dominated, but I’ve always been that one girl in the room right the way back from choosing A-levels, I did STEM subjects. What’s interesting is how things have changed in the 35 years. When I was 16, I was choosing my physics A-levels because I was the only girl in the room, the school physically tried to stop me from doing physics, they called my parents in. So I’ve been the only girl in the room in from A-level maths and physics, right the way through being a technical apprentice.

“I’m actually on the apprenticeship now for Sales Executive Level 4. It’s my second apprenticeship. Here I am at 53 and I’m an apprentice again.”

Lynn Siggins, Technology Consultant, Rockwell Automation

The first time was 18 and then the next one is 53. For my environment, it is very, very different. In my world, only 11% of the engineering workforce are women, so sales from my perspective is almost like the second string to the bow. In my world, the ticket to the show is actually being qualified as an engineer. In order to come into my role now, you need to either go through apprenticeship or you need to have a good engineering degree.

The issues for us really go back to STEM. It’s not so much, especially in my company, there’s no restrictions just being a female in any way, shape, or form. It’s not the case that you can’t be a salesperson because you’re female. It’s much more to do with you’ve got to be an engineer before you can go into sales. Interestingly I have a 17-year-old daughter, so she’s now where I was back then, she’s looking at degrees. I’ve been looking through the UCAS website in the last few weeks, and it’s interesting. If you type in on the courses the word sales, it comes up blank.

Routes into sales?

Every school now wants their child to go to a Russell Group University. You bang in the word sales and nothing comes up. I could just find one out of the Russell Group University in the UCAS website that has anything to do with sales. It was sales management and marketing, and it clearly said in capital letters, you will have a degree in marketing at the end of this.

It’s interesting that from an academia perspective, I think the problems start there. I mean from upbringing, culture, right the way back from being a child. I think many of those things have to change. It’s not for those of us at the end of the process to say women can be sales. We have to tell our children, tell our daughters, you can do anything that you want to and that sales is just another skill. It’s a skill exactly the same as being an accountant or flying a plane.

Barry: That’s amazing to hear what you’ve just said because we’ve got an issue here now of really going right back. You’re all professionals now as well as establishing your careers. Everything that I’ve heard so far is evangelism for sales, but there’s a general societal misunderstanding about a career in sales that as a profession. There is a process, you do have to have skills, knowledge, and behaviors that are appropriate and that those can be learned, which I think is the main lesson, which gives us a bit of a jump into the next question.

Skills needed in sales

What skills do you you think you have as women in sales that are better suited to selling than your male counterparts? I’m going to start with you on that one, Hannah if you don’t mind. What do you think about that question?

Hannah: I think there’s lots of things that we’re both good at, and I find it difficult when it’s men versus women because I think that when we try and sell or when we attract talent pools, we’re saying that we’re equal. I don’t think that the best salesperson that’s a man or the best salesperson, that’s a woman has different skills. I think they share very similar attributes that make them great.

“I think that the art of selling is a skill that’s transferable across genders, so whether or not that’s having empathy, being able to listen, being able to adapt to certain situations, or just making sure that you’re actually able to adapt what you sell to what a customer needs and being able to manage that through a sales cycle is probably the most important skills that I use on a day-to-day basis.”

Hannah Saddington, Hewlett Packard Enterprises

Barry: I think that’s a very balanced answer. I just wanted to be sort of providing some– Let’s see perspective from the Harvard report. I’m picking out two sets of contrasting words from the Harvard report, and I’m sure you will– Anyone who’s listening to this will be able to deduce which gender is being referred to in terms of these behavioral tropes if you like. Comparing the persuasive approach with the collaborative approach, comparing the empathetic approach with the comparative approach, so these were things that were pulled out by the Harvard research, Julie, any comments on that to build on Hannah’s points?

Strong role models

Julie: My opinion’s slightly different to Hannah. I do feel that women do have some stronger attributes, obviously. In my environment, it is very mixed. We do have some really strong male role models and some really strong female role models. I do believe that women, we are more empathetic. Multitasking I know it’s a standing joke across all genres but I do feel we can multitask well, organizational skills, and they all lead into what the Harvard’s saying about the collaborative role. It enables us to be more empathetic with customers, prospects, clients’ work, have an understanding, better listening skills. Sorry Hannah, but I tend to sway on the side of the Harvard report.

Hannah: I said empathy didn’t I, is one of my main skillsets. If that’s something that is more women-led, then that’s something that I think is a key skill for me, so maybe.

Barry: It would have been a really, really boring webinar if we just agreed on everything!

Lynn: I’m probably in danger of either getting lynched or fired if anybody from my company is listening to this. Sorry guys. I agree with the Harvard article, to be honest, because I’m a STEM ambassador and many of us on here are STEM ambassadors. I do believe we’re different. As I said, I’m used to being the only girl in the room. In my company, there are five women, there are three in direct sales and then two in technical sales, and we’re all very different. I think it’s dangerous to say that men and women are the same. I had a woman in America suggest that I read a book a while ago called How To Succeed in the Workplace (Despite Having a Female Brain). The only thing that I took from that book was that we have all the same breed, and if you think of us as being breeds of dogs, et cetera, then typically, men are considered to be the Rottweiler, and women are considered to be the sheepdog, and there is an element of that in that we’re used to herding, we’re much more team-driven.

Differences between men and women

If you look at Gartner reports as well, it’s proven that we’re better in teams and if women can be in management roles, they tend to choose a more diverse team, and studies show that if a woman is in management, she chooses a team. It tends to be 50 50, whereas men, unfortunately, tend to give more roles to men, and there is very much that element that men tend to give the jobs to the boys and it’s very much a locker-room kind of scenario as the Americans refer to it.

“I think we are different in many ways. I don’t think we’re better. We’re more intuitive I think.”

We were talking about body language before we came on this call. I think women are more perceptive and we’re much better at gauging what the temperature is in the room. From my perspective as well, I used to have a boss that used to send me into really, really heated meetings if we had a particular customer who was very, very difficult, and very irate. He would send me into that call because he knew that that the swearing would stop when I went in the room, which is nice. I can swear I can be the same as anyone else but yes I think we are different, but from a sales skills perspective, I don’t think there’s any difference. As I said, we are born in a certain way, but I think from a sales perspective, we can be taught in exactly the same way.

The lone wolf has gone

Barry: You’ve picked up on a couple of really important points there because one of the things that certainly we at Mercuri have seen over the years, is that we use the lone wolf to describe some successful salespeople, particularly male salespeople. However, the days of the lone wolf quite clearly are over because the selling process is much more complex and collegiate now. You need a team, you need to be playing as team, to play to your strengths. More often than you’ll be dealing with a multi-contact opportunity in that there will be more than one person making a decision within the customer side or the client’s side, so you do need to have a wider spectrum of capability.

That collaborative element of women working together and packing balanced teams is really critical, and as an observant in this discussion, I would say that that is a key difference. We’re recognizing that you need bench strength within your group rather than just individual excellence as important and Chi, what was your view?

Chaninah: Both Julie and Hannah mentioned it, but I do think there’s two skill sets that women have that really strengthen the sales conversations and processes. The first one is listening. A client is so much more likely to buy from you if they feel that you’re listening to them, you’re engaged, you understand their pain points, and then only by listening and understanding you’re showing the empathy and that you’re showing that you care. I do think there are two skill sets that women have that are much stronger than men.

Mercuri’s Apprenticeship Consultants

Barry: I think that’s a really important point and I’m going to give– I shouldn’t really do this but I’m going to give a personal perspective on this in that two of our most successful salespeople in Mercuri apprenticeships are women. I have had the pleasure and privilege to sell with them and was probably too conditioned by my previous experiences when I first started to go out with them.

Their general approach to the sale was different from mine and it kind of really threw me at the start. It was much warmer than I was, probably a lot more businesslike than I thought that they were being, but actually, their success and their relationship building over that period has proven to be outstanding. I have learned from them and by watching them and watching the way that they work, so I do absolutely agree with what you said, that that relationship thing and that empathy aspect is really important.

Improvement over the next 12 months

Looking at the next 12 months, we’ve talked about the horizon being low for everyone. Everyone’s kind of looking at shorter term, but I’m going to try and ask you to push your vision out about 12 months. What do you feel personally that you would like to get better at in the sales arena over the next 12 months? Maybe Lynn, if we can start with you on this question.

Lynn: Yes, because I’m actually on the Sales apprenticeship now. I’m what five, six months into it now. I can honestly say I feel really, really different. I only wish I’d done it earlier if I’m very, very honest. If I’d done it earlier, maybe 20 years ago before I had kids, I think that I’m pretty positive that my career would have taken different paths. I’m a believer in being a bit more Madonna as well. What I’ve realized as I’ve got older and maybe it’s just been in my 50’s. I believe avidly that everyone should rebrand themselves more regularly like Madonna, like Gaga, so be more Gaga.

Barry: This is great stuff. I’m going to use that.

Proud of working in sales

Lynn: I mean, there was a lot more science. What I’ve realized is as a techie, technical people generally feel that they’re not part of sales. I’m a technical person. I don’t work for sales. I totally disagree with that. I pride myself on being part of sales. What I have realized is by doing the Sales Level 4 apprenticeship, that it’s a science. There is as many technical aspects of being a salesperson. There are as many technical aspects of the sales process as there is being a technical person. As we said before, people say that salesmen and women are born and not made, and it’s clearly not true.

What I would like to do over the next 12 months really is to make sure that I put as much effort into my sales skills as I do my technical ones because, without that, I’m not going to succeed in sales. Luckily my company has recognized that and that’s why they put in not just the females, but they put in all of us, especially all of the younger, the grads, the experts, we’re all going through the same course.

My husband says I talk too much. I probably do and I don’t listen enough that, so I would like to think that I would learn to listen more and talk less. That would probably be one of the biggest things I would like to change, whether I can do it or not, and hone in on those technical skills that I’m learning very, very rapidly on the course.

Virtual Selling

Barry: Fantastic. That’s very clear. Thanks for that. Chi, can I come to you on that one?

“I think we’ve all acknowledged that COVID has changed the way we sell. Everything’s done virtually now, so having virtual meetings with clients was not something I’d experienced prior to March. That’s definitely going to be an area to focus on over the next 12 months.”

Chaninah Dzialoszynski, Senior Buisness Development Executive, BSI

We’re not going to be going back to the offices five days a week, or spending four hours to go and travel for a one-hour meeting with a client. I think a lot of it’s going to be done virtually now.

Barry: Okay. Just becoming more professional in that technical sale through technology and trying to bring some of the empathy and the warmth into the coldness of the technology if you like.

Chaninah: Exactly. Then with budgets having such a strong focus on now, everybody’s going to jump through a lot more hoops for approval just making sure about what’s in it for them always comes across because sometimes you may have a meeting with one individual, but then not the actual stakeholder for it. You’ve got to then go and meet with other people afterwards, so it’s making sure that message always carries through.

Barry: Absolutely. You may need to bring in reinforcement so to speak, from your organization to match the need of other stakeholder. Absolutely. Julie, can I come to you on the next 12 months?

Engaging with different stakeholders

Julie: Yes, for me, you said in one of your slides earlier that the buying cycle has changed for many people. Echoing what Chi said, we’ve got a lot more stakeholders now that we’re going to be engaging with. I think for me, it’s going to be important working through the apprenticeship with the people in the Academy understanding there’s going to be more people now with different behaviors to work with. Understanding that so that everyone’s got a better understanding of we have to speak to potentially finance and marketing. For me to have a real good look at that and understand how we can move that forward within the Academy and make sure the apprentices are aware of that and how we can work with behaviors really.

Barry: Fantastic. Hannah?

The art of selling and virtual walking

Hannah: I think we need to change the art of selling and to adapt to the new virtual world in more detail, so everybody’s doing things like over video constantly now. Everything used to be face-to-face as Chi said, and actually being able to make the right content that adapts to those different situations and different buying cycles. Everything’s taking longer, you need more calls, more meetings to get the same thing or same output done. Everyone’s working harder or working potentially longer hours to get the same thing done. It’s making sure in the short term how we can adapt to make sure that we’re relevant in terms of our art of selling and also trying different things.

One of the things that our business HP has put together is virtual walk while you talk that really sparking conversations at different parts within our customers, which it wasn’t intended for, but it is doing.

Barry: It interested me greatly when you told me about it. Now, I’m sure we could talk for another hour easily, but we’ve run out of time. We did want to squeeze some questions in at the end. I’m going to hand back to you, Alison, if you have any questions from our attendees today in terms of what we can put in front of the panel with the remaining few minutes that we have.

Alison: Thank you, Barry, and thank you for that very interesting discussion. Indeed, yes, there have been more questions on this than I’ve seen come through for a while. Questions and comments actually. We are probably not going to have time to get to all of the questions, so sorry, apologies to everyone for that, but we will make some of these questions available on the APS site with written answers later on.


Can I start with– Nadine well made the point in her organization, it was striking that the female sales team members seemed to adapt better to holding remote meetings than the men did. She makes the point that it’s a small sample and she wanted to know if this is widespread in your opinion, or is it just her experience? What do you think?

Adapting to remote selling

Barry: Panel, what do you think? Anyone can comment on that.

Hannah: I think, that that’s probably true actually. I think, as women, I can speak for myself, I do my makeup every day, dry my hair, and do those things on a day-to-day basis. For me, putting my video on, never really felt like an issue because I was already ready. For men, they’ve been growing beards or they’ve been doing things that maybe they’re struggling a bit in that aspect.

Barry: What are you trying to say, Hannah?

Hannah: I just think, we’ve adapted more because we’re used to already making ourselves ready for work.

Cameras off or on?

Barry: I just want to pick up on this point and reference something that Lynn told me on a previous conversation which is that she has found that some male customers that she needed to contact were very reluctant to turn their videos on. That’s just becoming a big hygiene issue in companies now, whereby management were letting it ride for a while, just to see what people did but actually, more and more companies now, insist that on internal meetings, videos are turned on.

It’s a vital element of the engagement if you’re trying to get that empathy thing that you’ve all described, reading body language, understanding someone’s mood, how they’re feeling during the day. Anyone else get any comments, I know we have questions on that particular topic?

Lynn: We have an edict that you have to put your work clothes on. Initially, you’d end up in a hoodie and a t-shirt that says Mr. Zero on the front or something. Now, I make a concerted effort. I have two sides to my wardrobe, I have my work wardrobe and I have my not-work wardrobe. I now get up in the mornings and I turn my video on like this and I put my work clothes on. That’s a psychological thing. What I have found is that in my role, I speak to the three main different types of people. I speak all the way through to the engineers, the implementers, right the way through the management, to the C-level people.

I have noticed that there is a difference between the different types of people that I speak to of whether they have their cameras on. It’s whether they’re in the office or whether they’re in the house. Most people will say, “Oh no, you can’t see it. You’ll see the washing basket behind me. It’s a mess.” I generally find that engineers are happier showing their code in their machine, “This is working, this isn’t working,” than they’re showing me their faces, which makes it very difficult from a sales perspective.

Barry: Very interesting. I’m sure we can get more detail on the written answers. You want to fire another one at us, Alison, please.

Use of language

Alison: I’d be interested in the written answers beyond what we look like on the video. I think, maybe she was meaning the ability to adapt the way we reach out, communicate, and connect with people. It’d be great to get your thoughts on that as well. Samantha McDonald, great question, she says, “I think traditionally, we still see it now that there is a hunt or kill mentality often seen in many organizations. Thinking about attracting women into sales, do we need to think about our language when we look to attract women into sales, especially as we know that women will often not apply for roles unless they feel 100% fit for it?”

Barry: Great question. Can I again, say, come to you on that one, Julie. You’ve been very strongly involved in recruitment recently. What kind of language is used within your recruitment collateral?

Julie: From our point of view, we are always talking about raw talent. We want to get to know you as a person and your traits and understand you because the skills can be taught. It’s not as harsh as some sales organizations would use. It’s more about getting to know them, talking about the future for them, and what they want to do in terms of their life goals, their career goals. Where do they want to go? It’s the skills that we can adapt around that to help them get there. It’s on a level-playing field for everybody. We’re so key on talking about raw talent and getting to know you the person and what you are and your key skills and traits at the moment, and then we can work with that and around that.

Barry: There’s probably a message here for the HR departments out there. If anyone from HR is on, think about the language that you’re using to direct to the female talent, what kind of words would make people lean into your advertisement or your conversation for a job. I’m not going to throw that one around. I’m just going to try and get some more questions. Any others that you can give us, Alison, before we run out of time?

Selling and Buying

Alison: There are loads. Dairy Jewel asks, “Are selling and buying, two sides of the same coin? In other words, requiring a similar skillset and if so, why are there so many women in buying roles than there are in sales?” Also following that question, says, “Is the introduction of a professional body for sales going to have a positive impact going forward?” CIPS is there already for procurement. At least, beginning part of that question, if you’d like to comment, that’d be great.

Barry: Why do we think there are more women in buying roles than selling roles? Let me throw that one to you, Hannah. Any comment on that?

Hannah: I think, it might come down to the previous question actually about language and attracting talent. I think, Julie mentioned it really well that she’s changing the language to make sure that they are attracting people into those sales roles. I think, from being target-driven and hunter mentality can sometimes deter women because it seems like it’s not the right route for them because they’ve never done that before when quite often people are selling in everything that they do and I think, from a buying standpoint, it’s quite often, men don’t always like go shopping and purchase as women do so they naturally go down that route. I say that very broad-brushed statement but I just think that’s it’s down to language.

Barry: That’s an interesting one. Actually, one of things that we’ve always said and even within this qualification, for the apprenticeship, that communication is one of the biggest challenges in business and people get it wrong on an individual level but on a collective level as well, on an organizational level through their websites, through their positioning statements for the companies, etc. What we’ve got here is a fundamental issue of the customer here is in fact the women who might be a salesperson and the seller is in fact the company who’s trying to attract that talent into their business and they’re just using the wrong language in some cases. It’s just not getting the message across so that’s really interesting. I think that’s one to come back to.

Part 2

One of the things, I’m going to very spontaneously suggest is that the APS might want to consider revisiting this webinar as a part two at some point because I think, it’s engaging people. I’m actually looking at how many people we still have on 10 minutes after the time. We’ve got almost everyone who was with us at the start. Clearly, this is an important area and something that’s interesting people. Alison, we’ll keep running up to the wire here but I think you and the team at APS need to consider revisiting the topic at some point with a panel. Do you want us to give another one before we finish, please?

Alison: Just on that, Barry, we’ll have you there. We’re already had that conversation during the half-hour, we saw the engagement levels. Can I just make a comment to the second part of that question about the professional body and professional qualifications like the apprenticeship program and other qualifications, but having a professional body and professionalizing sales, we believe will attract more women in sales because it will be about defining exactly the skill set, it being clear. Not based on subjective terms and will hopefully equalize and balance that mix. Obviously, we’d like to revisit that topic again in the future.

Challenges in sales

Great question here from Tamara Hussain, what are the key challenges that you face as women in sales? It’s to the panel in general.

Barry: I will throw that one briefly to everyone. If you were to pick up the single biggest challenge, Chi, if I can go to you first, biggest single challenge facing you in sales?

Chaninah: For myself and I imagine Lynn has something very similar. I sell to the construction industry so very male-dominated. You can be looked at as the little woman that doesn’t really know what’s she’s talking about.

Barry: That’s interesting and hugely patronizing. That’s even annoying me. Not as a woman but that is extremely annoying so that credibility issue which is completely unjustified. Lynn, you’re nodding in agreement. Would you say, that is the biggest challenge?

Lynn: It’s changed so much over the last 30 years. Where we were 30 years ago, it’s just incomparable to where we are now. Long since, I used to get, “Oh my God, you’re a girl,” when I used to walk in the door. “How novel.” It’s patronizing. “Well done, you.” [chuckles] But it’s not the same anymore, I have to say, it is different. I think from a qualification perspective, to go back to the previous one, those of us who have children, we tell our children to go to university. It’s a big thing, get a qualification that is transferable. Don’t just go to university and learn and get a degree in tiddlywinks. Get something that will allow you to go on and do something in life.

The sales qualification, I strongly believe is the one that’s missing. If I could have gone and done sales and something else maybe when I was 17-18, I strongly believe, I would have done that. I don’t believe that it’s being just a female, and I don’t also believe that women can’t be aggressive and very competitive because you get a roomful of women, they’re just as aggressive as the men, they’re just as competitive as the men. I think it’s just the different environments that the four of us work in.

Barry: Okay, that is very clear. Julie, biggest challenge as a woman.

Julie: I have to say currently there aren’t any major ones but historically, we’re being out on the forefront and obviously in the IT sector, if you called up and you wanted to talk about an enterprise solution, it was kind of, “Well, who’re you going to get to come and talk to me about it?” You weren’t actually taken that seriously as a woman, it was, “Oh, there must be someone behind you helping you do that.” I do things have moved on though, I agree with you Lynn 100%. Now people, it’s open forum now. I can’t say I have any real key challenges at the moment, I’m very fortunate.

“One of the things that actually comes quite clear from these answers is that probably the door’s been pushed open but not enough women are going through the door now.”

Barry Hilton

The attraction to come into the room isn’t there but the barrier is not there anymore. Hannah, do you want to give us a concluding perspective on that from your side in terms of challenges?

Using a sponsor

Hannah: I agree with you, Barry. I think that I’ve been very fortunate myself in my sales career that I’ve always had a sponsor. Women normally tend to do better in organizations where they’ve had sponsors, that’s why apprenticeships do help people when they’re going through. I co-lead one of the ones in HPE. Actually, that has really helped improve our pool of talent because they’re able to grow whilst being known as doing an apprenticeship, an internship, or a graduate scheme. That for me has opened a lot more doors. I think for my sales role I don’t think it would be any different from a man. My main challenge now is just the fact that everything is virtual and it’s adapting to that.

Barry: That’s really interesting. This is where I get to say that thing that I’ve always wanted to say that you see on tv, “To be continued.” I’d just like to thank the panel sincerely for your openness and accuracy in terms of getting to the point on these issues, it’s been really good, it’s been a really quick 45 minutes. I’m sure people have really enjoyed it, even now at 45 minutes, we’ve still got nearly 150 people on the webinar, which in my experience of doing these webinars, is quite an achievement, so well done on that. I’m sure people will want to come back listen to you again when we can get that organized, we’ll talk to APS about that.

Thanks, everyone for joining us today. Again, thanks to the panel. You can pick up some of this on these various links on social media. Also, if you want to contact us or contact APS, we can get you the access to that Harvard Business Review article as well. Have a great day today and let’s get selling. Thank you very much, everyone.

Alison: Thank you, Barry.