This article is based on a presentation from Women in SaaS Summit 2022. Listen to the full unedited talk OnDemand right here.

I'd like to start with a personal story, one that has made a long-lasting dent in my perception of what it means to be a woman in sales. A few years ago, I was a sales manager at a SaaS platform located in New York City. As a matter of fact, it was just down the street from the picture that you see below.

Manhattan streets

As I was sitting in my Midtown Manhattan office, I was going through a bunch of online applications for a job that we were hiring for, an entry-level sales associate position, and I soon realized something: there was not one single female applicant.

I don't mean there were no qualified female applicants – I mean there were absolutely zero female applicants.

As somebody who's been in sales my entire life, I will admit I had been blind to what was going around me in the industry as a whole. But that afternoon, bit by bit, I started realizing a couple of things.

The first thing I realized was that I rarely met other women in sales, and when I did, I was always filled with awe and excitement. Wow! Another woman in sales! High five!

The second key thing that I realized was when I did meet women working in sales at a SaaS company, I rarely saw them long-term. I would see them in the same position for perhaps a year or two before they moved on to a marketing or customer success role.

That afternoon, I became absolutely obsessed with learning the why and understanding how, in such a field as exciting as SaaS sales, I don't see more people like me.

Ginni Rometty giving a talk

Before I share what I’ve learned, I want to bring up one of the most influential female business leaders, someone I've always looked up to: Ginni Rometty.

She was one of the first women to head IBM as CEO between 2012 and 2020. While she was CEO of IBM, the company acquired 65 companies, including one of the largest acquisitions in the company's history. Under Ginni’s leadership, IBM also contributed to the growth of AI, quantum computing, and blockchain technologies.

Now, Ginni Rometty famously said, “Growth and comfort do not co-exist.” I'll repeat that – growth and comfort do not co-exist. I would say, my friends, that this statement perfectly sums up the position of women in sales.

The state of women in sales

So how are things looking for women in sales today? Well, according to the Harvard Business Review, women make up over half of the college-educated workforce. However, they hold less than a third of all B2B sales jobs.

On top of that, according to the US Bureau of Labor, only 34.2% of sales managers are women. You might be thinking, “Well, a third isn’t that bad.”

However, the number becomes a lot worse when you start looking specifically at women in sales for technology companies, including SaaS platforms, where that number dips down to about 16% – a much less significant chunk.

Across all industries, women earn 77% of the total compensation of their male counterparts, and the sales industry as a whole has the second-largest gender equity gap in America.

Now, I'm not going to sit here and say there hasn’t been any progress over the last few years. Women have made great progress and now have greater representation in higher-level sales positions than ever. However, there is clearly more work to be done.

Why women succeed in sales

Now, as we all know, women tend to make excellent salespeople. I'm not speaking anecdotally – I'm speaking from stats.

Statistics have shown that women tend to have higher win rates than men on average; plus, women-led teams have higher win and quota attainment rates. A survey by Xactly also reported that 86% of the women achieved quota, compared to 78% of men. That's about 8% better.

Why is this, we might ask ourselves. Well, women tend to bring certain strengths and capabilities that impact the company and its bottom line.

Women bring different perspectives and different ways of looking at complex issues and problems – and as we all know, SaaS sales is all about understanding and solving problems.

Let's talk a little bit more about the strengths and capabilities that women bring as sales leaders and sales employees in SaaS platforms.

Key strength #1: Emotional intelligence

One of the most important strengths women bring to the table is emotional intelligence. You might be surprised to learn that emotional intelligence as a whole is responsible for more than 50% of professional successes. Why is that? Well, it helps you do three main things:

  1. Emotional intelligence helps you solve customer problems, and the foundation of SaaS sales success is not having an assertive nature; it's grasping and solving a specific problem that a customer has.
  2. Emotional intelligence helps decrease staff turnover rates. In fact, hiring salespeople on the basis of their emotional competence results in 63% less turnover during the first year.
  3. Emotional intelligence drives revenue. Studies have shown that sales reps with high EQ scores tend to produce double the revenue of those with average or below-average EQ scores.

Key strength #2: Collaboration

Now, friends, we’re in the 2020s, not the 1990s. We don't have Alec Baldwin yelling “Always be closing!” and asking if we're “man enough to take it.” SaaS sales is not a lone wolf environment anymore.

As a matter of fact, the most effective salespeople are those that can collaborate rather than compete. Collaboration simply drives success, and many studies have shown that women have a stronger bias towards collaboration.

Today's sales departments demand that sales reps work together to provide a better customer experience, and as you know, collaboration with marketing teams is also invaluable.

According to HubSpot, organizations that align their sales and marketing teams will close 38% more deals and achieve double the revenue and more wins. Collaboration also allows you to organize internal resources and create relationships that lead to win-wins, even in a three-person office.

Key strength #3: Listening

The last but certainly not least important skill I’m going to talk about is listening. Jack Zenger famously conducted a study showing that women tend to be significantly better listeners and have a stronger preference for listening than men.

The study also compared leaders and found out those with a stronger preference for listening were rated as much more effective in 13 out of the six main competencies that make a stronger leader.

Another study by Gong Labs analyzed over 100,000 B2B sales calls and conversations using AI. One of the things they found is that women listen on average 16% more.

Interestingly, they looked into other factors impacting sales performance and found that men and women rank pretty similarly. They tend to have the same number of talk topics and questions and the same level of patience; listening sticks out as the main thing that men and women do differently.

Why does this matter when it comes to SaaS sales? Well, Gong Labs’ previous research shows that the highest-converting salespeople have a talk-to-listen ratio of 43:57. Why is that?

Well, when your customer’s core objectives and your business objectives are perfectly aligned, you will succeed in sales. You can best reach that alignment through listening.

Impactful insights for driving change

Now, I’m not here to talk about things we can't change. I’m here to talk about the things that we could and should and can change. I’m here to share information that you can take home and act on.

With that said, I'm going to take you through three impactful insights to help you drive change, and we’re going to look at each of these insights through two different lenses; the first is what SaaS companies can do to create more diversity in the workplace, and the second is what you can do to get a job in sales or move up the ladder as a woman in sales.

Impactful insight #1: Hiring

What SaaS companies can do

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty and talk about job listings. My advice to companies is to take a critical look at the terminologies and tone in your job descriptions and how you describe the responsibilities of the positions you're hiring for. Are you using terms like aggressive, assertive, or competitive?

Out of curiosity, I recently searched for SaaS sales jobs in the USA. These weren't listings from five or ten years ago; they were posted within the last 30 to 65 days. I want to share a few of the job descriptions I found. Pay close attention to the terminologies here.

Ad for a SaaS Sales Development Rep: “You want to win all the time, and your drive is contagious.”

Ad for a Director of Sales: “Maximize sales revenue for the company and ensure an aggressive approach by all sales staff.”

Ad for a Sales Executive: “Demonstrated success in achievement of aggressive sales goals.”

Ad for an Inside Sales Assistant: “Can-do attitude, enthusiasm, outgoing and aggressive personality.”

And last but not least, one of my favorites:

Ad for an entry-level sales job: “Influences customers' purchase decisions by balancing patience and assertiveness.”

So what’s wrong with language like this? Well, LinkedIn’s Language Matters report found out that 44% of women would be discouraged from applying to a job if the description included the word “aggressive”.

Also, keep in mind that your job description is more than just how you describe the roles and responsibilities of the job; it's also the benefits that you offer. Different types of benefits will appeal to different types of people.

For example, women tend to seek positions that describe a more adaptable work environment with flexible working hours and medical and dental coverage.

Advice for women looking to get into sales

My advice for women is not to be deterred from applying for these jobs. Understand that language biases exist, of course, but then during the job interview, highlight your specific strengths and how they tie into sales.

Lean into the capabilities that make you unique and show how those capabilities boost your sales performance and the revenue of the company.

Impactful insight #2: Mentorship

I’ll start this one with a plea to companies: provide mentorship opportunities, please!

I was recently reading about GitLab’s Women in Sales program, which provides mentorship opportunities.

They started this program because they had found that in four out of their five main divisions, the company had a significantly higher number of men than women in management roles, and they identified communication and mentorship as key ways to remove barriers and ensure transparency.

This mentorship program led to increased visibility within leadership and increased professional development for women in sales and across other divisions. It allowed employees to form better relationships with leaders across other teams as well.

Advice for women in sales

If you’re currently working for a SaaS platform or looking to join one, look for mentorship opportunities. If your company doesn’t yet have a mentorship program, encourage it to create one, however small it may be.

I also urge you to look at yourself and ask, am I being a good ally? Am I being a good mentor to women in this space? And most importantly, am I doing enough to further women’s advancement in my own organization?

Identify other women that you think may be good at sales and tell them about it. Sales is not a dirty word. Provide advice and offer feedback in a very helpful manner, and then, most importantly, find allies.

Perhaps you’ve heard of queen bee syndrome. The term was coined in the 1970s by a researcher named Rosalind Barnett, who used it to describe a phenomenon in which female employees, typically in a position of power, would behave in a hostile or condescending manner towards other female employees.

That can mean a variety of different things – making negative comments, refusing to mentor women, or even actively undermining their success.

Now, queen bee syndrome isn't something that only entry-level employees experience. As a matter of fact, I’ve been on the receiving end of queen bee syndrome, which allowed me to see its causes first-hand.

To put it simply, queen bee syndrome is a way for women to cope with the gender discrimination they’ve faced in their own careers. It's a result of discrimination and exposure to gender stereotyping from a very young age.

That's coupled with too few policies that protect women from discrimination and harassment, plus a lack of support from management teams.

What SaaS companies can do

The good news is that queen bee syndrome is avoidable. I strongly urge anybody that's working for a SaaS platform to mentor women and girls and incorporate discussions about the presence of gender discrimination in society. At the end of the day, everybody can play a critical role in the growth and careers of women.

According to Boston Consulting Group's 2017 study on gender diversity – and this is probably one of the most exciting stats I've heard – 96% of organizations where men were engaged in gender diversity initiatives reported progress.

When men weren't involved, that dropped to only 30%, so make involving men in your programs a priority.

Impactful insight #3: Transparency

Sales leadership has a gender gap problem, and organizations need to do a better job of attracting, retaining, and promoting talent.

However, this is a foundational core issue for many organizations, and hiring alone isn't going to help, nor is simply providing mentorship programs. This is where transparency becomes absolutely key.

Studies have shown that salary transparency, including laws prohibiting companies from asking applicants about their current or previous pay, tends to help narrow the gender pay gap. As of right now, only 17 states have pay transparency laws – they’re brand new.

The US’s first pay transparency law was enacted in 2018, so we don’t yet know what impact these laws are having. However, I found one study on the effect of similar laws that have been implemented within Canadian universities; they’ve reduced the gender pay gap by about 20 to 40%.

A study by Boston Consulting Group also found that women in sales are more likely than men to appreciate transparency about gender pay gaps and how an organization is addressing them.

Not only that, but a survey by Women in Revenue cited more than half of its respondents as saying that transparent compensation is the most important consideration when evaluating a job offer.

On top of that, Bloomberg recently announced the opening of its 2022 Gender Equality Index, otherwise known as the GEI Reporting Framework. This framework allows public companies to be more transparent about gender-related practices and policies.

This data is then made available to investors. Not only that, but it allows companies to compare themselves to other companies and set targets for improvement.

Advice to SaaS companies

As a SaaS leader in your space, you can start being transparent about pay today. Companies need to publicize the actions they're taking to improve equity and equality.

If you are in a company that is successfully attracting, retaining, and promoting women in sales, I want to know about that. We all want to know about that. Showcase your work and how it was done, and inspire other organizations to do the same.

A reminder: “Growth and comfort do not co-exist”

I’d like to end with a reminder of Ginni Rometty’s wise words: “Growth and comfort do not co-exist.” Women are not going to get better representation in sales leadership positions, nor are they going to be able to close the gender pay gap by being comfortable.

With that, I'm going to leave you with three things you can start doing ASAP to build a more equitable environment:

  1. Be aware of your own biases and the biases of others, but do not let them stop you from applying for jobs.
  2. Find creative ways to build allyships with women in the workplace and be an active voice in promoting the role of women in sales.
  3. Be transparent and vocal at all times.

This isn't going to be comfortable, but it’s more than possible.