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Beyond Lip Service: Attracting Women in Sales with Policies that [Really] Support Their Success

Cynthia Barnes

March 8th, 2019

6 Workplace Policies that Promote Gender Equality

It’s easy to sit in front of a female sales job candidate and tell her that your company is a great place for her to work, but do your workplace policies actually support that rhetoric?

Many companies are operating on outdated policies and procedures that might not include any support for gender-equality practices. Women in sales as well as women working in other areas of business (or other sectors of employment altogether) are looking for companies with clear positions on the fair and equitable treatment of men and women.

They want to see actual policies that govern the operation in multiple areas, from office culture, to advancement, to pay.

For companies to attract and retain the best saleswomen in both entry-level and leadership positions, they should examine how their policies reflect issues related to gender equality.

Including the following policies can help your business create a climate that is conducive to gender equality so that, all things being equal, women will be more willing to work for you.

Family Leave Policy

As a matter of law, women cannot be discriminated against for getting pregnant and taking maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires companies to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but there are still loopholes. For example, the law only applies to companies employing upwards of 50 employees. There are other exceptions too, but I won’t list them here.

The fact is, without “paid family leave,” one in four mothers will return to work just two weeks after giving birth. As matter of course, most companies just make mention of FMLA. Some companies are more expansive and progressive in their attitude toward family leave.

In fact, 34% of women don’t return to work at all after giving birth, and in some sectors, they’re leaving the workforce at twice the rate that men do – though not always for family reasons.

Not all companies can afford to provide paid leave, but offering this benefit is a great way to attract more women to your business. According to the Harvard Business Review, today’s women are actually looking for more gender-neutral family-leave policies. Statistics demonstrate that “the more parental leave that fathers take, the more likely mothers are to return to work full-time.”

By creating a family leave policy that supports both men and women taking time to care for their family, your business can better reflect its gender neutrality.

Manage and Track Women’s Performance—and Progress

Salespeople are used to being tracked and having their performance monitored. However, not many companies are specifically tracking women’s performance with a critical eye, an eye that is looking for ways to support their needs and encourage their growth. Creating a policy or procedure to look at women’s sales statistics both individually and collectively can help a company address a potential problem.

If women are not progressing at the rate that men are, it’s a problem for the company that might manifest itself in numerous ways—retaining women for one. Having a policy that outlines your company’s desire to support women’s progress can help you attract more talented women to your firm.

Formally Address Gender-Equality Issues

It’s easy for management to create a policy that instructs them to revisit gender-neutrality policies or address women’s workplace issues annually or bi-annually by signing off on some document at a board meeting.

That’s not really engaging in actionable gender-equality practices. A strong policy will outline ways that companies can—and should—include company-wide practices that address issues related to gender in the workplace. Your business can host seminars, lectures, or workshops related to gender equality as a way to formally address topical issues and demonstrate its support for gender equality.

Develop Programs that Target Women

Programs that benefit women benefit men too, but women can really use them in their quest for equality in the workplace. For instance, a coaching program or mentoring program can be vital for women in sales, especially in companies where women are under-represented.

These types of initiatives can facilitate training but also help the company accrue valuable information from the women themselves—what are their needs? What are they looking for in terms of professional support? How is the company’s office culture affecting them?

Companies that care about women and their advancement should be taking actionable steps to support them, and programs like these can be an effective tool for creating a more gender equality in the workplace.

Consensual Relationship Agreements

At this point, sexual harassment policies have been in use for decades. With women continuing to report workplace sexual harassment, more needs to be done. According to a report by NPR in 2018, 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment at their place of work.

First, companies can instate a strict zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy. They can also instruct women from the start of their employment how to report sexual harassment and to annunciate that such reports are welcome.

Some more progressive companies take even further measures to create a climate where sexual harassment is less likely to occur. Some companies have issued no-dating policies, forbidding employees to engage in romantic relationships with one another as a way to curb the potential for harassment. But policies like that are often resented by employees, and are difficult to enforce in many states.

Instead, some companies require employees who date to sign consensual relationship agreements. Employees who sign typically agree not to let the relationship affect their work or office culture. It also provides the company with another opportunity to hand out its sexual harassment policy.

The consensual relationship agreement policy does something else: it acknowledges personal behaviors between colleagues and the potential for relationships to spring up. In essence, it brings sexual relationships out into the open and provides a mechanism for protecting both employees. It also instructs employees about how to handle their relationships professionally.

More Than an Annual Meeting

No matter what steps a company takes to create gender-neutral policies and policies that support women’s advancement and fair treatment in terms of pay and advancement, it must revisit them—and not simply at an annual meeting.

Create procedures for auditing each department for gender neutrality. HR should be examining its job descriptions to ensure that are completely gender neutral. Marketing should be examining materials for gender neutrality and so forth.

The policies and procedures that govern a company are, too often, left to sit in a dusty binder on some manager’s dusty shelf. Companies that care about women in the workplace realize that they have to create policies that demonstrably support women and gender equality. Otherwise, talented saleswomen and other female employees will move on to companies who do.

About the author

Cynthia Barnes

Cynthia Barnes is recognized as one of the most influential Women in Sales leaders and professional development experts in the world. The former Top 1% saleswoman founded the National Association of Women Sales Professionals in 2016, the nation’s only organization dedicated to helping women sales professionals reach the Top 1% and Dance on the Glass Ceiling™. She is recognized by Sales Hacker one of the 35 Most Influential Women in Sales. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the National Sales Network Detroit Chapter.

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