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The Death of a Salesman

Why recruit a woman into your team? What selling skills can she really bring?

These types of questions have been hotly debated for many years, not just in sales, but in the whole field of business. And of course, many reasoned and well-thought out justifications for the presence of women in business have been presented and argued.

Reasons such as ‘women are better listeners’, ‘women are needed to interpret the female consumers’ desires’, and ‘women can use their empathy to build client relationships’, to name just a few.

But there is a big problem with this situation…

By even entering into a discussion about the economic and business benefits women can bring, we are implicitly agreeing that, were these economic benefits proved insufficient, it would be acceptable to rationalise excluding women from the workplace. The fundamental truth that women and men should have equal treatment in the workplace should really be all we need to convince us in this day and age.

What we need is to forget the idea of ‘Saleswoman’ and ‘Salesman’, which assume that each will bring a specific skill set based on their supposed biologically inherent strengths and weaknesses.

The realm of sales, in particular, has traditionally masculine connotations – much as the methods and mindsets have changed since the days of the 1950’s slick-haired car salesman, it remains a field which uses rhetoric playing on masculine stereotypes, such as ‘hunting’ business, ‘seducing’ clients, ‘beating’ the competition and a adopting a ‘ruthless’ manner.

One recent sales manual even compares winning a client’s business to convincing a woman to date you, confidently explaining that all women want promises of security and protection. Any successful business woman reading this kind of ‘advice’ is not likely to identify with such thinking, and is placed firmly outside the expected audience: the heterosexual, red-blooded, un-empathetic male. Indeed, this stereotype is unlikely to resonate with many male readers either, or really anyone who has had any contact with the modern world.

When women are addressed in sales literature, it is often suggested that the problems they experience are self-inflicted, and that with a little more effort they can be on a par with their male counterparts. The fact that women are working in an environment often structurally hostile to them is swept under the carpet. It is the responsibility of, and to the benefit of, everyone to ensure gender biases are mercilessly uncovered and rooted out.

Reference to biological stereotypes is a barrier to a healthy work environment and a successful team performance. The recognition of the individual talents and potential of team members beyond their gender opens up a wealth of possibilities for new approaches to selling in a rapidly changing marketplace. Men and women, alike, cannot perform optimally when they feel they have to fit into an expectation of their skills which they don’t identify with, and a traditionally masculine Sales environment does exactly this.

Written by: Steve Eungblut, Managing Director of Sterling Chase