Finding Your Style in Sales

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Breaking out of the Boys’ Club:
Authenticity and Gender Bias in Sales

Leslie Venetz might have happened onto her sales career by chance, but she quickly realized it was her calling.

Now Venetz is the owner of Sales Team Builder, a consulting firm for coaching and training B2B sales professionals, and works as New Business Development Director at Procurement Leaders. Her climb to the top has been challenging and inspiring. She’s learned hard lessons as a woman in a male-dominated industry, and she’s eager to share her experiences with other women in sales who find themselves torn between fitting into the boys’ club and being their authentic selves. “It did not happen overnight,” she confides.

While Venetz has seen a rise in the number of women entering the sales space, there is still a series of obstacles preventing them from getting beyond entry-level into management positions. Even the entry-level growth has been slow, she says, with a mere 3 percent rise in the number of women entering sales over the past decade. When it comes to senior leadership, the numbers are even more disheartening—Venetz cites a recent study that found only one in 10 senior leadership roles are filled by women, and 50 percent of men think that’s fine. She points out how counterintuitive this gender bias is: “Women are not just as good as men at sales, but statistics show [women] close at about a 5 percent higher rate, and that adds up at the end of the year.”

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Despite her passion for sales, when she started out at a male-dominated firm in her twenties, she questioned her instincts because they were different from those of her colleagues, and their advice to her seemed to be gender-biased. “I found that the advice I was getting was to be “less of”—less loud, laugh less, less emotional, less pushy—and I didn’t love that,” says Venetz. As a newcomer to the profession, Venetz tried to fit into the box she was presented with, but it left her feeling like she had to be someone different when she was at work. “I felt like I had to have that iron fist to be respected,” she shares.

Walking into meetings where she was the only woman in the room, selling beside men and to men, facing gender-based sexual and verbal harassment, Venetz had many hurdles to overcome in her career to get to where she is today. In a male-dominated career space, “I realized I was going to have to work harder to get the same respect and the same opportunities,” she says. What was the first step in finding her way? Venetz says it was finding her authentic self in her work. “Letting go of worry about how I was being perceived and giving myself permission to be authentic,” she explains.

It’s an Evolution

It wasn’t an overnight transition, but her sales style evolved to be more true to how she instinctively interacted with people. She found that her authentic self excelled at sales. She was having more fun at work, and she was hitting the elite sales targets. Her clients were responding positively to her empathetic but assertive approach, and she discovered that “work is a lot more fun when you’re not constantly worried about how you’re being perceived.”

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Since embracing her authentic self at work, she’s noticed the culture of sales is slowly shifting to be more inclusive of women. “Women (are) being stronger, standing their ground, having a comfort level with calling out bad behavior,” she notes; plus, “there are a lot more male allies today than there ever have been before.” She has seen her male colleagues evolve to challenge the status quo alongside their female counterparts. While the numbers show that there’s a long way to go to achieve gender parity in sales, more men are getting on board with it.

Even with increased support from male colleagues, Venetz stresses the importance of “women helping women.” Finding ways to motivate and inspire other women in sales is at the heart of her mission. Venetz wants to help other women understand their worth, and to know when to say, “I deserve better than this.” She emphasizes the importance of learning and making progress rather than striving for perfection. She encourages women to look within, taking time out and “sitting down and having a conversation with yourself about what makes you happy and how you can use that to bring happiness to other people.”

Venetz stresses that finding yourself in your work is an evolution.“Make sure you are constantly learning new things, being open to new ways of working, understanding other folks’ perspectives, and you’re going to become the better version of yourself,” she says. Bringing your authentic self to work means that you’ll feel happier with what you do, and you’ll be able to grow through the challenges you’ll face. That translates into more confidence and increased productivity; it’s a cycle that starts with embracing your strengths.

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