Sales leaders offer inspiration on International Women’s Day

March 8, 2017: This year the challenge of International Women’s Day, March 8, is to #BeBoldForChange. We asked senior women in sales what they would like to have said to their younger selves, to inspire them to be bold and reach for even greater achievements.

Denise Bryant, former UK Sales Director, Arrow ECS

My advice to my 21 year old self starting out as an IT saleswoman in 1983 is just as valid today to a woman starting out in sales today.

Denise Bryant

Denise Bryant

I saw a recent quote on a poster that resonated with me: “What someone else thinks of you, is none of your business”.

I wish I had been more aware at 21, that there will always be someone who lets it be known that they could do your job better than you are doing; that they could have made a sale larger or more profitable; could have developed a customer relationship more strongly; or have led a team more effectively. This opinion-sharing happens all the time, but is even more prevalent when it is a female leader who is being assessed.

I know of lots of examples where women sales leaders have felt isolated and undermined by the constant critical gaze she can find herself in. It takes a strong woman to ignore the backchat and to gain momentum and win regardless. I am extremely honoured to know many such women.

My advice? To the women who are unsure of how to handle the day ahead, smile and ignore the background noise.

Know you are better than those who proffer opinions about your effectiveness. After all, if they really were more able to perform in your role than you – then the role would be theirs, not yours.

Far more importantly, to the women who hear this opinion-sharing about a fellow female colleague, defend them – please! This sort of backchat aimed at women sales leaders is destructive and may be aimed at you tomorrow.

Anne Blackie, Head of Bids & Client Care, Grant Thornton

Anne Blackie

Anne Blackie

I’ve been incredibly lucky in my career to work with some fantastic, inspiring women leaders (including the current CEO of Grant Thornton) who have been great role models in terms of what women can achieve. Often the only thing holding us back is our fear that we are not good enough, something men seem more able to deal with.

So, trust your judgement, take yourself out of your comfort zone, dust yourself down when things don’t go quite the way you wanted and try again.

In particular, I would offer the following advice to women starting out in sales:
– work hard but have fun as well
– trust your gut – it’s normally right
– remember it’s OK to make mistakes, they will be your greatest teacher
– be the leader you want to have
– take risks to grow, achieve your goals, stretch yourself and your team
– don’t stress too much. Things have a habit of sorting themselves out.

Helen Major, Relationship Director, Association of Professional Sales and Executive Coach

To all women across the globe, happy international women’s day! I am inspired by the women I have seen in the news using this day as a platform to draw attention to equality, diversity and choice. I applaud you for using your voice and being heard.

Helen Major 2

Helen Major

I’ve been fortunate to be born in the UK with access to education, healthcare, nutrition and above all opportunity; I’ve carved a successful career in B2B marketing, qualified as a coach and set up my own coaching and training practice. I’ve also started developing my skills in sales and am now Relationship Director for the APS, advocating the professional development of sales people, and sharing my coaching practices. I’m an international business mentor for The Prince’s Trust and found my passion working with young people.

Those sentences are easy to write, but the challenges I’ve come across in my career have not been so simple. Many of the people I coach and mentor are young professionals, and often female. I frequently hear, “how do I know I’m being paid the same as my male colleague?” and “what do I do in a room full of men, who don’t seem to know I’m there?” or “I want to go for that promotion but…”.

The answer to many of those questions is to be bold. Scary, but true. Be bold enough to ask for more when you negotiate your salary – you’re worth it. Be bold enough to speak up in the room and be heard.

That’s what I would have told my 21-year-old self: acknowledge the fear but do it anyway. If I had a time machine to go back to my younger self, I’d take a gift of courage and confidence, and tell myself to learn sooner that there is nothing to be gained in worrying what other people think.

Be brave, share your voice for the benefit of others and don’t forget to stretch your hand backwards to encourage those behind you.

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