Why Women Earn Less Than Men In Sales (It’s So Simple)

Sales teams are generally male dominated. I found this was true in 2/3 of the medical device companies I’ve worked for.

I’ve spoken with sales managers who will actively ignore female job candidates because they’re convinced they’ don’t close as much business.

Additionally figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest there’s a huge difference what sales men and women earn each year. Saleswomen earn a whopping 62.5% less than what their male counterparts do.

Is this explained by sales skill and performance?

I’m not so sure.

Having worked with both strong salesmen and saleswomen I wanted to see if there was any data to support this misalignment.

The answer was simple.


Women are more helpful

Men and women’s brains work differently because of both social upbringing and physical neurological differences in brain structure.

It’s very difficult to separate these two influences on sales performance but a study by Arch using their SPPP (Salesperson Personality Profile) [2] revealed –

“… surprising overall gender differences between male and female salespeople. For example, while women tend to possess a higher level of integrity and are more helpful, attentive to detail, and organized, men were more comfortable with public speaking, more success oriented, and adaptable. They also outscored women on mental toughness and competitiveness. “

It seems 50/50 as to the skills men and women are potentially naturally gifted at.

Regardless I’m an unorganised male and I just work harder to stay organised. Being naturally gifted at a particular skill can always be overcome by sheer work effort so I don’t see this as evidence as to why sales women earn less.


Unfair playing field?

If the prospects in your industry favour purchasing from men or women specifically then it is up to the individual salesperson to find out why and overcome it. In my mind it’s simply an objection and shouldn’t have a baring as to whether targets are smashed.

What surprised me however was that in a study of two large stockbrokerages, Wharton Professor Janice Madden found that [4] –

“Saleswomen earned less than salesmen because they’d been systematically given inferior accounts that generated smaller commissions and then denied support staff, mentors, and other amenities that would have helped them perform better, suggesting that outright discrimination can be disguised as merit pay.”

This is a small scale study but is it happening in the broader work place?


And they make more cold calls

A skilled cold caller will never be short of sales. Anecdotally I can link all the sales superstars I’ve worked with in the past with the ability to cold call and get appointments.

Tom Peters, co-author of ‘In Search of Excellence’ found that –

“… women are more likely to appear in front of a prospect because they’re 25% more willing to make cold calls than men.”

However there is a lot that happens between picking up the phone to closing a deal.


And they hit target as often

In my mind the ultimate test as to whether a salesperson is performing is if they’re hitting their sales target. That is why you’re there after all, to sell.

Research from Xactly in 2013 showed that –

“… in sales, 70% of women reached their quotas, while only 67% of men did”

So if around the same percentage of women are hitting target vs men across all industries then there can be only one variable left.


The type of industry!

It seems that the misconception that men are better salespeople than women (which is seemingly backed up by the amount of money they earn) is explained by the percentage of each sex in different industries.

Data suggests that there is a higher percentage of men in industries such as car sales (8% women [6] and medical device sales (21% women [7]) where there is opportunity to earn the big bucks.

Whilst women are over represented in sales of consumer goods, clothing and retail sales where the average wage and commissions are smaller.

It seems that men are no better at closing deals, it’s just the deals that they’re closing which are different.


  1. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6004/686
  2. http://blog.archprofile.com/archinsights/sales_gender
  3. http://www.omghub.com/salesdevelopmentblog/tabid/5809/bid/7054/Who-Are-Better-Salespeople-Men-or-Women.aspx
  4. https://hbr.org/2013/09/women-in-the-workplace-a-research-roundup
  5. EEOC, “2012 EEO-1 National Aggregate Report by NAICS-4 Code: 3361 – Motor Vehicle Manufacturing,” 2012 Job Patterns for Minorities and Women in Private Industry (2013).
  6. https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=5353
  7. https://www.medreps.com/medical-sales-careers/2012-med-rep-salary-report/


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