EPISODE 288: Women in Sales Industry Leader Cynthia Barnes Says CEO’s Can Do This If They’re Committed to Raising Women into Sales and Business Leadership

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the WOMEN IN SALES Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales and hosted by Gina Stracuzzi on October 20, 2020. It featured President of the National Association of Women Sales Professionals Cynthia Barnes.]

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Find Cynthia on LinkedIn here.

EPISODE 288: Women in Sales Industry Leader Cynthia Barnes Says CEO’s Can Do This If They’re Committed to Raising Women into Sales and Business Leadership

CYNTHIA’S INSIGHTS FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Female-led sales teams are 50% female, they tend to be more female than male-led sales teams which are only 25% female. There is a huge benefit of having a female sales leader because she brings in more women in sales to her team, so if you are a C suite or a CEO out there and you’re thinking, “How do we attract more women in sales, start with having female sales leaders? Women in sales know that they are being highly sought after and when they look at the leadership team of your organization, if they don’t see anyone that looks like them they’re going to pass and go onto a company that does represent them. Women hold 1 in 5 leadership positions and only 1 in 4 mid-level sales manager roles, which if you talk about overall sales leadership for women, it is 89% male, 11% female. We have a huge opportunity to advance women in sales not only on the individual contributor level but on the manager and leadership level as well.”

Cynthia Barnes: Thank you so much for having me, I have been a huge admirer for many years and it’s a dream come true to be with you today.

Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Cynthia Barnes: I’m Cynthia Barnes, Founder and CEO of the National Association of Women Sales Professionals, we are a 15,000 member based organization of women who sell B to B services in male-dominated industries. Our goal is to provide our members with the network, i.e. access to companies who are laser-focused on the advancement of women in sales as well as providing training created by women for women to help our members reach the top 1%, whatever that top 1% looks like to them.

Gina Stracuzzi: Everybody listening, go check out her organization because we are really dedicated to elevating women in sales and getting women into sales leadership. Cynthia, you and I have discussed over the last couple of months the almost dire statistics of where women in sales are and I know you’ve got a couple of slides you’re going to share with us. Do you want to get to that right now or do you want to jump right into where we are and then let that lead our conversation?

Cynthia Barnes: The first thing I want to bring to everyone’s attention is that female-led sales teams are 50% female, they tend to be more female than male-led sales teams which are only 25% female. There is a huge benefit of having a female sales leader because she brings in more women in sales to her team, so if you are a C suite or a CEO out there and you’re thinking, “How do we attract more women in sales?”, how about starting with having female sales leaders? Women in sales know that they are being highly sought after and when they look at the leadership team of your organization, if they don’t see anyone that looks like them they’re going to pass and go onto a company that does represent them.

I know, Gina, you’re going to talk about some of the strides that we have not made in women in sales advancement, this is another one. Women hold 1 in 5 leadership positions and only 1 in 4 mid-level sales manager roles, which if you talk about overall sales leadership for women, it is 89% male, 11% female. We have a huge opportunity to advance women in sales not only on the individual contributor level but on the manager and leadership level as well.

Gina Stracuzzi: As we were talking previously, the whole reason we started the Women in Sales leadership forum that IES puts on is because I started doing the same kind of research that you pointed out. The thing that just stuck with me and floored me is that women in sales leadership has remained stagnant for well over a decade. If you think about what happens to a company, all the growth potential, all the marketability, all the credibility, the increase in sales, when women are on sales teams and lead sales teams, then numbers increase. This is not just wishful thinking on my part or yours, it is reality and that number has remained stagnant, nobody is winning there. Even in just women in sales overall – forget leadership for a minute – there’s only been a 3% increase in those numbers in that same last decade. So who is benefitting from that? No one, women aren’t benefitting and companies aren’t benefitting meaning we can’t really blame men because the companies are hiring them, it’s not their fault. It’s in our interest, the company’s’ interest, women’s interest to really raise our voices, elevate our game and get after it, which is what you do so magnificently. Let’s talk about that a little bit. You wanted to get a little bit of a pulse on who’s in the audience.

Cynthia Barnes: Yes, we have a small intimate crowd today which is great, dedicated people, I would love to know who our attendees are.

Gina Stracuzzi: We’re going to run a quick poll, what’s your role in your organization? Are you VP, C level, director manager, individual contributor, business owner? We have a lot of people who watch the replays of this so unfortunately we won’t get a chance to get their position but for the people that are here today, if you could just let us know, that will help us direct our conversation in a way that’s going to be meaningful for you. Pretty much everybody is an individual contributor or business owner. A lot of times we do have VPs on the line too, of course, every week is different with who can be in and who can’t but I know from the women I talk to, they want to know, “How can I progress in my career? How can I accelerate it and get into leadership?” Let’s talk a little bit about that and then even ways that they might be able to take this message to their companies.

Cynthia Barnes: Yes, and if there’s time, we could talk about what individual contributors can do to challenge the status quo and help the companies attract, hire, develop and retain women in sales because like you said earlier, Gina, it’s up to us to make our voices heard in a system that is not very welcoming and has not been intentional on hiring us. The numbers are there.

Gina Stracuzzi: I would love to make sure we get into that conversation. Both of us and our organizations are really dedicated to changing this and we want to help you, so let us help you. Cynthia, where would you like to start in this conversation?

Cynthia Barnes: I think the reality is there, I think that the stats are there, I think the biggest question on the lips of people in leadership is, “How do we attract, hire, develop an retain women in sales?” and the first question I have to ask anybody that comes to NAWSP and says, “We want to tap into your organization”, I ask, “Tell me about your women in sales initiative.” If they don’t have one, then I can pretty much predict that any attempts to hire and attract women in sales are going to fall flat. The reality is that you can attract women in sales, you can put up all kinds of ads, you can do Indeed posts, you can do everything that attracts them but if they get in there and your culture is not welcoming, they don’t feel a sense of belonging, they will leave and you have wasted your money.

Gina Stracuzzi: I’m sure you’ve come across this research yourself, that even well-intentioned companies, there is still a secondary bias that exists and it’s so under the radar that it still taints things in a way that makes it hard for women to progress or for women to get heard or get the visibility they need. Nobody is doing it intentionally, it’s just still there, there’s just a mentality that people don’t even realize they have and they operate from that and it still gets in the way. As you rightly point out, if a company doesn’t have that initiative, a really purposeful way of going about hiring and retaining them, then you’re right. Women will not succeed in that company.

Cynthia Barnes: They won’t stay and I would challenge those that say, “We’re doing everything that we can.” Some say, “There’s just not enough women out there.” Have you ever heard the phrase, “Silence is compliance”?

Gina Stracuzzi: Yes.

Cynthia Barnes: Making a choice not to pursue, hire, attract, develop and retain women in sales is a choice. It is a choice to maintain the status quo, it is a choice not to change your culture, it is a choice to force women to assimilate to your culture to belong so for those companies out there that are delivering lip service, we see you.

Gina Stracuzzi: I had a guest on about a month ago, a fabulous woman, she runs a technology company and she’s like, “I need more women and I can’t get them to even apply.” It was interesting because she’s like, “I want a whole team of women sales representatives and I can’t find them.” What would you give as advice to someone like that?

Cynthia Barnes: I’ve got an organization of 15 thousand women and at any given point, 73% are looking for new roles.

Gina Stracuzzi: I’m going to send her to you.

Cynthia Barnes: Yes. 78% of the Fortune 500 are trying to attract more women to their companies whether it’s in sales, technology, engineering. Sales is normally one of the largest departments so it behooves them to go the most expedient way of achieving that overarching goal by saying, “We are going to hire women in sales.” That being said, 36% of those Fortune 500 companies partner with affiliate organizations to meet their goals so if you’re searching for African American men, then you would go to National Sales Network. If you’re looking for African American women, Asian women or Latino woman, NAWSP is where you would go because we are the most diverse women in sales organization out there. For those that are laser-focused on changing the status quo, challenging the status quo and finding those women in sales, you have to go where they are.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s not nice to imagine that 73% of a huge group of women are looking for another job, but it is good to know that there is a resource to connect employers and women with talent and desire and fortitude and the drive to accelerate their sales careers. That is a wonderful thing to know about and I will make sure that particular employer has your name and number.

Let’s talk about how we can position a company as an employer, how they might position themselves and then let’s turn that on its ear a little bit and talk about how a woman inside of a company might actually speak to her management team to get what she needs.

Cynthia Barnes: Let’s start there because I think that there’s power collectively in women and I think sometimes we don’t voice that power that we have. The first thing I would do is ask an individual contributor, “Does your company have an ERG or BRG specific to women in sales? A lot of times there are BRGs – Business Resource Groups or Employer Resource Groups – for women. Everybody who is in sales knows that the challenges that women in sales face are different than challenges than women in engineering face – not better, not worse, just different. To have a women in sales specific ERG is crucial and if there’s not one, then start one with your leadership’s help. That would be the first thing, I would also take a look at your company’s recruitment methods and look at the ads that they have. Are they all one race, one gender? If that’s the case then that needs to change, take a look at the referral policy. If everyone in the organization is one race, one gender and you ask them to send referrals your way, because birds of a feather flock together, they’re going to send those that look like them. As a leader, you’ve got to take a look at what strategies we have in place, what are they yielding and how can we modify them for our goals?

Gina Stracuzzi: I wonder as an individual contributor, let’s just say there’s two or three women on your sales team and you feel like you don’t really have a voice. You could put together this resource group for sure, is there something fairly immediate that you would advise women to do within their company to point out or suggest changes to the recruitment process that would garner more women?

Cynthia Barnes: I think the simple answer is to ask, “What are we doing to achieve gender parity in our sales department?” Just a, “What are we doing? What plans do we have in place?” That simple question is going to get that topic on the radar of leadership and it’s going to start some conversations. When you ask, “What are our plans to increase the women in sales and leadership?” and if they don’t have an answer, say, “Why not?” That’s a tough position, however they will respect the heck out of you for asking because again, 78% of Fortune 500 companies are trying to increase women so that does two things. #1 it gets you on the radar of leadership and says, “This person has their pulse on what’s going on” and #2, that positions you as a potential leader because now you are thinking what’s in the best interest of the organization, not just my quota.

Gina Stracuzzi: That puts you in an extraordinary position to become the leader within your organization so that’s incredible advice. If there’s a company that has some women on their team but they feel like – this is something I hear and I’m sure you hear too – there’s talented women but they don’t speak up or they’re in meetings and they let the men talk over them, how would you position yourself if you were in an organization? This is not meant to slam men all over the place, but this is something employers tell us, that they wish the women on their team would speak up more. Considering the number of individual contributors we have in the audience, what advice would you give to women in how they might speak up and have their voice heard?

Cynthia Barnes: I have advice for the women and I also have advice for leadership. The advice for leadership is ask yourself if the women are not speaking up, “Have I as a leader created a safe environment for them to do so?” One thing that they did in the last presidential administration was when they had executive leadership meetings, the women would say something and then a man would interrupt them and say the exact same thing and they would say, “That’s a good idea.” What they started doing was having a buddy system, a woman would say something and then her female counterpart would say, “Jackie, that’s a great idea” and it would affirm and solidify what she said. Unfortunately, that’s what it took for women to be heard.

Advice for the women that are around the table, #1 sit at the table, don’t sit at the side, don’t be the note taker, you have a voice and once you tap into that and you start speaking up, have some authority when you speak. Don’t listen to your inner bully, as Mel Robbins calls it, or your inner critic that says, “That’s going to be stupid” or, “They’re going to laugh at you.” No, speak up.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yes, and don’t start your sentence with, “I don’t know if this is important.”

Cynthia Barnes: Right, or, “I just…” “I have a thought.”

Gina Stracuzzi: Yes, and if you don’t have a buddy system within your organization and a woman at the table says something, say, “Cynthia, that was brilliant, I really liked that” and repeat the idea so it gives that solidification and then Bob can’t walk away with it.

Cynthia Barnes: Yes, and when Bob interrupts you, because that happens a lot too, simply, “I heard you and I’ll get to that in a moment but I’d like to finish my thought.” We have to be assertive and a lot of women in sales that I encounter equate assertiveness with the B word and that is not the case. Assertiveness is one form of how you present yourself. You can either be passive, you can be passive-aggressive, you can be aggressive or you can be assertive. If you need help on being assertive, email me and I’ll put you into our next masterclass but don’t be afraid to speak up. After all, a closed mouth never gets fed.

Gina Stracuzzi: To me, assertiveness is part of being sure of yourself and that’s one of the things we cover in the forum, too is learning to trust your gut and believe, knock that little voice out of your head and just put her in a little room someplace [laughs].

Cynthia Barnes: “You’re in the back seat, I’ll get to you later.”

Gina Stracuzzi: Believe in what you’re thinking and just get it out there because it’s not aggressiveness, it’s not bitchiness, it’s just… I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t have said that out loud.

Cynthia Barnes: Like we’ve never heard that before.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yeah [laughs], it’s just believing that your ideas have value and they do have value. Once you get a couple of them out, it gets a lot easier to do it. I grew up with 5 brothers so I know a lot about having to present my ideas and say, “Hang on…” It didn’t always go quite that smoothly [laughs].

Cynthia Barnes: I do have a question for the individual contributors and actually, all attendees. I would like to know what the biggest challenge you’re facing as a woman in sales is, can we ask that?

Gina Stracuzzi: Yes.

Cynthia Barnes: Drop it into the chat, what is your biggest challenge being a woman in sales?

Gina Stracuzzi: While we’re waiting for them to respond to that, one of the things that I think is of value and I know you do too is establishing links with professional organizations. That is something that companies can do to find a pool of candidates, how might individual contributors use the same organizations to their benefit in increasing their exposure or their knowledge base? Maybe if you need it, their opportunity to find another company if that’s the case at this point.

Cynthia Barnes: My mother always tells me that no woman is an island. Life can be challenging and when we are trying to navigate careers, navigate life, navigate COVID, it’s a lot easier to do when we have a tribe of like-minded women around us. Whether it’s NAWSP or another organization, plug in and be active. You get out of it what you put into it but realize that there is someone out there that has already been through what you are going through and she has a roadmap of pitfalls to avoid and suggestions of how you navigate easier. Don’t go alone, one of the great things about an organization – whether it’s NAWSP or whether it’s NABO or whatever…

Gina Stracuzzi: …or IES [laughs].

Cynthia Barnes: Or IES, yes, is that there’s the committee of they and you don’t have to do it alone. I think that in 2020 where we’re social distancing and doing Zoom calls and we can’t get hugs like we normally do, it’s even more important now to plug in and just join a community.

Gina Stracuzzi: Which goes to some of what we’re getting in terms of the audience responding. Jessica says that her biggest challenge is finding a mentor to learn from who’s not within her company and that goes to a lot of times that idea of a safe environment. Sometimes you will find there are women who don’t necessarily have the best interest of other women so confiding in them can be difficult. She said, “Someone to be invested in my growth without complication of company politics.” Then Claire said that right now her biggest challenge is that her industry has essentially shut down, “So I need to figure out if I can wig this out likely 2020 or shift industries.” What industry are you in, Claire? Hospitality, that’s a tough one. The last one is figuring out work-life balance in the middle of the pandemic because now a lot of women are more settled with the homeschooling, figuring out why their kid’s computer is on a game instead of on a class [laughs].

Cynthia Barnes: Let’s address the first one, I forget the young lady’s name that talked about mentoring.

Gina Stracuzzi: Jessica.

Cynthia Barnes: Jessica, I am totally with you on mentoring, it’s such an important topic that we started Mentor Mondays, it’s a hybrid of half training, half speed mentoring to find a mentor, to be a mentor. If you send me an email at cynthia@nawsp.org, I can get you plugged in or send you an invite to the Mentor Mondays that we have and there’s a lot of mentoring going on there. Please reach out to me and I can help you with that. The second young lady talked about hospitality, Claire.

Gina Stracuzzi: She’s not sure if she should get into a new industry.

Cynthia Barnes: I think exploring your options is always a good thing and finding an organization that celebrates you, not just tolerates you, is paramount.

Gina Stracuzzi: Hospitality is in its own personal little hell right now because it is just impossible for people to travel.

Cynthia Barnes: There’s no conferences.

Gina Stracuzzi: Right, it is hard so perhaps if there is an industry that has a symmetry to hospitality or something that gets you excited, you might want to consider that because it could be a long way out, you’re absolutely right. It comes down to what your bank account will allow and how passionate you are about what you’re doing. What are maybe other industries that you could have the same excitement about? Reach out to either Cynthia and/or myself, I’m happy to explore these things with you and put you in touch with career coaches that I know that can maybe at least help you talk through what your options might be.

Cynthia Barnes: We do have at NAWSP a resume writer and LinkedIn profile person and career coach and we partner with companies like Google and Oracle and all these companies looking for women just like you. Claire, the good news is you have transferrable skills, it’s just a matter of getting them on paper so that the right company will see those transferrable skills and scoop you up. There’s hope and there’s opportunity so that’s good news, I’m excited for you.

Gina Stracuzzi: Cynthia, I have to laugh because you and I clicked the first time we talked, a lot of the same mindset around what companies should be doing and what women should be doing to help themselves and part of the forum, for the people that have gone through the forum, I started a little side program called Mentoring Monday. I’m really big in alliteration [laughs].

Cynthia Barnes: It’s all good, me too. I’m thinking, “Mentor Mondays…”

Gina Stracuzzi: Yeah, taco Tuesdays, that’s got nothing to do with anything [laughs].

Cynthia Barnes: Exactly, taco Tuesday is…

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s important.

Cynthia Barnes: It is important [laughs]. Margarita Monday and taco Tuesdays. What was the last question?

Gina Stracuzzi: Claire and Jessica both said, “Thank you very much” and they appreciate the advice. I hope anybody on the line will feel free to reach out to Cynthia and/or myself and talk about these things because these are difficult times, as we all know and if you’re trying to really accelerate your career or hang on as Jessica is in hers, it takes a lot to keep going. Just talking to like-minded souls has a lot of benefits, it makes you feel better to know that you’re not in this alone and as you can tell, Cynthia and I both like to talk [laughs].

We have about another 10 minutes so let’s talk about what a comfortable office culture might look like and what an open communication policy would look like. How do you know if you really are in a good environment? If you have your doubts, then you’re probably onto something but is there a way to really see what a good policy would look like and what recommendations you would give people for figuring out where their company might stand on things?

Cynthia Barnes: When you walk in the door, can you be your authentic self? Just because someone invites you to the table doesn’t mean that they want you there. Inviting you to the table saying, “You have a seat at the table but we’re not offering you anything to eat”, how much of a sense of belonging would you feel? A lot of companies say, “We hired all these minorities” – as they call them – “But they’re not staying.” My question is why are they not? For example, I had a company that I was working with and they wanted to attract women in sales and I said, “You’ve got a women in sales initiative, everything looks good.” When you walk into the room it was like a boiler room with foosball tables, ping-pong tables, corn hole, beer drop Fridays – which is all well and good because I know a lot of women like those things. That coupled with 95% men could appear that that environment is not embracing of anything other than the majority that they have and that success formula has worked fine. However, now there’s a women in sales initiative and you’ve got to think about, “What is my culture speaking to those that I want to attract?” When companies say, “You can take your customers out for dinner but they’ve got to go to the scotch and cigar bar or they’ve got to go to a game at a professional sporting event”, why not say when COVID is lifted, “If you want to take your clients out, you can do anything you want with them as long as it’s legal, ethical and moral.” As a former woman in sales, you give me an Amex Card but I can only go to the Red Socks game or I can only go to a basketball game with my client, I may or may not like that, or the candy shop – we’re not even going to talk about the candy shop.

Gina Stracuzzi: Golf is a big thing and I have two wonderful women friends who’ve started an organization called Women on Course and the whole goal of it is to #1, teach women how to golf if they don’t know, come up with attire that is not meant to be just flirtatious but is comfortable and you can play the game in it well and still feel professional and how to talk around the 19th hole. Taking the game to where the guys are, I like that idea but it goes to your thinking of, “This is how it’s done, we go play golf.” If you don’t play golf and you have no desire to play golf, then you have to have some other opportunity to interact outside of your standard business lunch or a meeting. What are the options? Don’t put limitations on it. It’s important that as a salesperson you figure out what’s going to work for your client too and where that middle ground is between you two but as a company, allowing salespeople to go to the place that works for them and the client without limitation is really good advice.

Cynthia Barnes: One of the greatest complaints of a spouse is, “I never see you enough because you’re always gone, you’re always working.” What if instead of saying as a woman in sales, “I’m going to take Tom out to lunch or dinner”, why not create a family-friendly activity so that his wife and kids can come and your husband and your kids can come and everybody’s happy? You can still talk business but if it’s at an amusement park, just be creative, women are so creative and leadership, it would behoove them to ask women, “What do you need to make this successful? What would you like to do?” Ask us, we’ll tell you.

Gina Stracuzzi: [Laughs] especially because you know there’s a lot more Cynthias and Ginas out there just waiting for the opportunity, we just have to make those opportunities for ourselves too and hold our company’s’ feet to the fire a little bit. In our last few minutes, what piece of advice, an actionable bold step, would you suggest for our audience to help elevate their game, help bring their career to the next level?

Cynthia Barnes: Read a book, my book.

Gina Stracuzzi: [Laughs] I love the very nonchalant little move with the cup, you should do that because it shows an assertiveness and a lack of fear and confidence in what you’re doing.

Cynthia Barnes: Anybody who is viewing this and wants a copy, just email me and I will either send you the eBook or the hard copy because I want you to reach the top 1% and it’s full of tips that I’ve learned over a couple of decades of sales. For leaders, we have a guide called The Cure which is about hiring, attracting, developing and retaining women in sales. Again, if you email me hello@nawsp.org, I can make sure that you get a copy of that. Those would be the two actionable steps that you can implement immediately. Educate yourself whether you’re an individual contributor, whether or not you’re a leader, there are tools and resources out there and of course, reach out to Gina, reach out to me, we’re here to help you.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely, that is great advice in this month of ours, this National Women in Sales Month – continuous education. Men do it, they make time, I know we’re all way overburdened, especially women with little kids but put a podcast in, something to keep ideas coming into your head. You’ll get there and you have us as champions. I’m just so thrilled, Cynthia, that you came on and I hope you’ll come back. Let’s keep working on this and let’s keep elevating women to where they belong, at the top.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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