If Silicon Valley is any indication, gender discrimination is alive and well, even in “progressive” industries.
Early in her career, [Heidi] Roizen [operating partner at DFJ and a Stanford lecturer] was working “on a company-defining deal”—involving, potentially, millions of dollars—with a major PC manufacturer. “The PC manufacturer’s senior vice president who had been instrumental in crafting the deal suggested he and I sign over dinner in San Francisco to celebrate,” Roizen has written. “When I arrived at the restaurant, I found it a bit awkward to be seated at a table for four yet to be in two seats right next to each other, but it was a French restaurant and that seemed to be the style, so down I sat. Wine was brought and toasts were made to our great future together. About halfway through the dinner, he told me he had also brought me a present, but it was under the table, and would I please give him my hand so he could give it to me. I gave him my hand, and he placed it in his unzipped pants.
“Yes,” she said. “This really happened.”
This shocking story comes from “What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women”—the cover story for the February 6th issue of Newsweek. Not only is Roizen’s story true; it’s common. As writer Nina Burleigh reveals, “Every Silicon Valley entrepreneur who spoke with Newsweek has a story somewhat like this—varying only in degree of brazenness.”
The Newsweek article and cover image have been the source of much debate, whining, and complaining. None of that matters. The truth is that women entrepreneurs are not getting funding; their ideas are not valued; and they’re being pushed aside. When a woman speaks up, she’s being pushy. When a man speaks up, he’s being assertive.
We’ve come a long way in the last few decades, but gender discrimination hasn’t disappeared. It’s just gotten softer and more subtle—except, apparently, in Silicon Valley, where it’s right out in the open.
Equal Pay or Unfair Play?
Successful sales organizations in the 21st century will facilitate teams that leverage the strengths of both men and women. Smart sales leaders want diverse teams that bring different skills, experiences, and perspectives to the table. Yet, most aren’t putting their money where their mouths are.
According to Xactly Insights Gender Study of Sales, women in sales outperform their male counterparts in:
- Loyalty (staying in their roles for nearly one year longer than men)
- Quota attainment (70% vs. 67% percent)
- Overall leadership effectiveness (55% vs. 52%)
- Leadership effectiveness in sales (67% vs. 63%)
On average, however, men receive higher commission rates than women (4.1% vs. 4.8%), and women receive lower total variable and base pay.
The math doesn’t add up. After all the social progress of the last 50 years —and after women have more than proven our worth—why are leaders still undervaluing the contributions we make to companies and the economy?
The Truth About Women
Men and women are wired differently, giving each gender some natural advantages. This is not frivolous banter. It’s fact.
Women have many inherent strengths to offer clients and sales teams, including incredible intuition. You’ve probably heard it many times: “I wish I had trusted my gut.” When we trust our intuition, even when others think we’re out of our minds, we usually come through unscathed. Hard to do? You bet.
We build relationships very differently than men. We love to share stories and delight in hearing the details and the outcomes, rather than getting straight to the point or being told to “net it out.” We ask insightful questions that come to us naturally. Women form trusting relationships with each other almost immediately. Ask any man, and he will agree that women relate to each other differently than women relate to men, or than men relate to each other.
We are also curious creatures; we love to “peel the onion” and get to the root cause of a problem. Maybe that comes from being mothers, aunts, or cousins. When talking to the children in our lives, we rarely take the first words out of their mouths as gospel. We ask a lot of “why” and “what” questions. We put the pieces together, fill in the gaps, figure out what really happened, and find a solution. And that’s a big part of what makes us great at sales.
What We Must Do Differently
For women in sales, gender discrimination isn’t nearly as overt as it was years ago. Now instead of being harassed or insulted, we’re more likely to be overlooked.
Every woman I’ve spoken with shares this story: “I’m at a meeting, and I offer a perfect solution to the problem being discussed. No one comments, and the group keeps talking. Then 10 minutes later, a man says almost the same thing, and everyone thinks it’s a terrific idea.”
One of my colleagues, a partner in a national CPA firm, has her response ready whenever this scenario occurs. She immediately says, “I’m so glad you liked my idea.” That shuts people up fast, while putting her in a position of leadership and strength.
My best advice for women in sales: Get your voice heard. Speak up. If a man preempts or ignores you, call him on it. You don’t need to be pushy or arrogant. Just state your point of view. Stop wishing you had said something and whining when your ideas get passed over. It’s up to you to demonstrate behaviors that change perceptions, contribute to company goals, and accelerate your own career.
Maybe Silicon Valley’s bad behavior is a good thing. It got Newsweek’s attention and has reopened the gender discussion. It brought hidden prejudices back into the spotlight. And now that we know about them, we can fight them.