Women in Fintech Sales – Shifting Roles

by | Oct 14, 2020 | Blog

The statistics for women in the workplace are still bleak, despite decades of slow progress towards equality. While women make up 39% of the workforce worldwide, they make up only 7.4% of Fortune 500 CEO roles.

Within B2B industries, women make up just over half of the college-educated workforce, and despite this hold less than one-third of B2B sales jobs. Women are grossly underrepresented in the B2B sector, and it could be at the detriment of those companies which remain ignorant of societal shifts and changing norms.

Research shows that women in sales often outperform men. A 2019 study reported that 86% of women achieved their sales quota, compared with 78% of men. The higher rates of success are attributed to the change in the sales journey that now requires border skills which are often deemed ‘inherent’ in women but are in fact more often taught as feminine qualities expected of women to possess.

How Sales is Shifting

Research has identified 7 capabilities that differentiate high-performing salespeople from average-performing salespeople. The reassessment of sales and the transformation of the sales journey to an increasingly online forum means that some qualities are now more highly rated than others.

As Covid-19 spread worldwide and countries announced various lockdown measures, salespeople were forced to work solely online. While being an engaged and skilled analyst and listener have always been qualities required of successful salespeople, transitioning this relationship-building to a wholly online environment has seemed to favor women in sales.

7 Capabilities of High-Performing Salespeople

  • Critical analysis: dissecting data and making non-biased assessments based on facts and figures presented
  • Networking: connecting with people at all levels of business, within the company and outside the company to enhance relationships and opportunities
  • Collaborating: working cooperatively with others
  • Shaping solutions: listening to the needs of customers and providing solutions that answer those needs
  • Influencing: shaping company messages and style to maximize the impact
  • Driving: applying structured and planned approaches to deliver outcomes
  • Improving: constantly seeking better ways to do things and trying new things, including taking risks

Studies show that while those who have a number of these skills tend to perform well in sales, women are attributed to a higher number of these inherent skills than men.

Skill or Quality Men Women Both
Critical analysis
Shaping solutions

The shift in B2B sales, especially in the tech and financial sectors, means
that those people who are good at listening and problem-solving for customers are better salespeople than those who are aggressive and competitive, as was the case in previous years.

One of the core changes in sales is the use of language. Where terms that suggested a competitive and ‘masculine’ environment were used to advertise sales jobs were commonly used in the past, more neutral and inclusive terms that stress the importance of teamwork and collaboration are now commonly used. In place of words like ‘force’ and ‘superior’, which are considered ‘masculine’ words in job advertising, writers are encouraged to use words that are more encompassing of skills than qualities to attract a broader range of applicants. For instance, these are the keywords from a real job ad with a UK firm seeking a fintech sales manager:

  • Sales Manager (hunter)
  • Successful track record of driving Banking success and building strong partner relationships
  • Drive process improvement
  • Solid understanding
  • Strong personality

Many women would read the said job ad and assume that the company is seeking a male simply based on the masculine language of the ad. Staying that the role is a ‘hunter’ would deter many women (and even many men) from reading further to discover that the ad almost declares that anyone with commitments outside of their career need not apply.

While this type of approach – direct and aggressive – is not in reality excluding anyone except those who would likely not enjoy the company culture anyway, it is more an issue for the employer in this case, which is limiting their opportunities to employ people with diverse skills and who better fit with the changing culture of B2B sales.

One example of a male-dominated industry that is rapidly benefiting from adapting to the acceptance of an increasing number of highly skilled women in more power executive-level roles in finance. Automated computer algorithms are now used more often to analyze investments and make portfolio recommendations making it easier for investors to execute their own financial transactions.

However, the role of a financial advisor is one of a confidant. An investor needs more than analytics to guide decision making when the stakes are higher than costs. Estate planning requires the guidance of a skilled listener, an empath who is able to use the data as well as emotional intelligence to help investors understand complex financial decisions that are influenced by emotion. These are typically skills attributed to women, and within finance, an increasing number of women are moving into positions of power and proving that gender is not a factor in ability.

Women are also increasingly holding positions of authority in the fast-growing field of high-tech sales. Increasing proportions of business technology sales are subscription-based (such as SaaS products) or consumption-based (such as cloud services), rather than one-time purchases. Selling such solutions requires salespeople who can help customers visualize how the solution works for their business and offer the security of a long term partnership. Although women hold only a quarter of high-tech sales jobs, career data sources report that at least 50% and as high as 70% of high profile salespeople in tech are women. Women are also leading global customer service teams at major tech companies, such as Oracle and Salesforce.

Boosting the Number of Women in Sales

While an increasing number of women no longer see gender as a barrier to their career opportunities and more enterprises are changing their attitudes towards women in the workplace and in high power roles, there are still some core issues that we’ve yet to address as a society.

Many girls and young women are deterred from studying certain areas that can lead to potentially influential roles. The attitude that ‘girls are not good at rational thinking’ is still pervasive and can limit the choices girls make when choosing to focus on academia in early childhood. Until such damaging rhetoric limiting the ability of people based on their gender is eliminated from society, people will find those gender roles will influence their long term potential in fields of study and career.

Another long-held gender stereotype that is damaging to women and men is the choice to raise a family. Women in their late 20’s or those who are engaged or recently married are often overlooked for promotions or job roles because of the disruption that her taking time off to birth a child or raise a family would have on the company. In many countries it is illegal to ask people about their intentions about marriage and childrearing, so even women who have no intention of having children or who have a partner who is committed to raising their family are not in an easy position. This also applies to caregivers for family members, as this is a role that often falls on women.

Men are also affected by the stereotyping of child-rearing is the responsibility of women. For those men who do want to take time off work to raise children, they face other stigmas, such as the belief that they are not ‘strong’ or ‘masculine’ because they want to commit to their children. These attitudes surrounding the rearing of children are a deeply ingrained institutionalized issue. It is workplaces and government policies that need to change so that people can have the opportunity to have a family and have a career, regardless of their gender. The invasive nature of work as a 24/7 demand that removes any work/life balance is destroying people’s relationships and is actually proven to be non-productive.

Productivity studies have shown that those who work 4 days a week and set strict boundaries about after-hours contact are far more productive, happy, and engaged with their work than those people who act as slaves to their employer. The burden on women who have children and who have high-level roles is further exacerbated by the expectation that women still maintain the household and raise the children to an unequal degree. While the balance has been proven to be shifting in recent years, research shows that in heterosexual live-in relationships where both people earn an income, women are still doing about 16 hours of housework per week while men do about 6.

Gender diversity is not just about social justice, it is also about increased performance. When society stops seeing gender and starts recognizing skills, interests, and abilities, perhaps things will take another step forward. However, until workplaces change so that families are also supported, it might be difficult to break down barriers completely and welcome more women into the executive levels roles that are dominated by old white men.