Who paved the way for women in sales?
Picture yourself in 1900. You didn’t have the right to vote or run for office. Your job was to take care of your household, your children, and your husband. If you had to work, you only had a few options: nurse, housekeeper, cook, or factory worker. Much depended on your social status as a woman, and whatever you did, you would be paid far less than men for doing the same job (a problem we still haven’t solved).
Fast forward 50 years to the mid-20th century. There were two new job options for women— secretary or a teacher. Things were a little better than in 1900, but most people still believed a woman’s place was in the home. Electives in schools were gender-based: shop class for boys and “home economics” for girls. The joke was, women only attended college to get their “Mrs.” degree.
Yet, even with gender biases and cultural norms working against them, there were women trailblazers in every century, including women sales leaders.
Blazing a Trail for Women in Sales
Most notable among early women sales leaders is Lucinda W. Prince, a pioneering business woman from the early 1900’s. Thanks to Todd Caponi’s diligent research. Mrs. Prince knew women were underpaid and relegated to menial jobs, even women who were capable of far more. She decided special training was needed for girls who wanted to become saleswomen, and perhaps one day, women sales leaders. And as a member of the executive committee of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union of Boston, she had the means to provide that training.
In the fall of 1905, she began teaching a class on retail sales to women through the union. Two years later, her class had more than 100 applicants. She negotiated with businesses to hire her students part-time, and by 1907, women were receiving full pay for their education.
Thanks to her efforts, by 1912, nine Boston high schools offered salesmanship classes to both boys and girls. And by 1916, there were 400 high school girls participating in the program—women sales leaders in the making.
Lucinda Prince started a trend that hasn’t stopped since—women in sales supporting each other, mentoring each other, and bringing other women with them on their way to the top.
One of these trailblazing go-getters was my dear friend Barb Giamanco. Many of you knew her and are familiar with her advocacy for women in sales. It was just like her to identify a huge gap and take action to fill it. For example, when she wanted to address the lack of women sales leaders, she created her podcast, “Conversations with Women in Sales,” for which she interviewed a variety of women leaders and sales professionals across a spectrum of ages and cultures. She treated every woman as her guest and made them feel comfortable and engaged. (If you haven’t listened to Barb’s podcasts, now would be a good time.)
Barb knew the impact her podcasts had on saleswomen of all ages and backgrounds. She took her passion one step further and created an eBook called ”Opening the Doors to Sales Opportunities.” It features interviews with five women: Alli Rizacos, Caryn Kopp, Kristina McMillan, Mandy Bynum, and me. Barb never asked any of us for help with this project. She took it upon herself to create this resource for women in sales, and she continued to let us know about the huge number of people who downloaded the book and whose sales lives we impacted. Download the eBook now to find out what I mean.
Barb passed away in May 2020, but Lori Richardson, president of Women Sales Pros, continues Barb’s Legacy with the Conversations with Women in Sales podcast. In addition, she organized the “Barbara Giamanco Memorial Scholarship Fund” through the Sales Education Foundation for female university sales students. (Donate to help young women build a sales career). Lori has always been a proactive promoter for women in sales—getting more women on the podium, showcasing their blogs and podcasts, and always looking for opportunities to let women know about the honorable profession of sales.
Jill Konrath has also become a household name in the sales community. She and I first met in Chicago at a CEO Read gathering in 2006. This was a small group of sales professionals from many aspects of sales. I don’t recall if we were the only women in the room, but I do know we were the only attendees with a book on sales. Her book Selling to Big Companies was published in December 2005, and my book No More Cold Calling was published in 2006. That was a long time ago, when there were few women sales authors and even fewer women sales speakers.
Jill realized then that we needed an organization for women in sales, so she launched Sales Shebang with a conference in Minneapolis. She brought together women from all kinds of sales—women new to sales as well as seasoned women sales leaders. She created a forum for discussion and an exchange of ideas. That organization is now Women Sales Pros.
I think it’s safe to say, Lucinda Prince would have been proud of all these inspiring women. I sure am!
More Trailblazers for Women Sales Leaders
I am privileged to know two women who created something that didn’t exist. They found a need and created a solution. Amazing, Remarkable, Gutsy.
In 2016, Cynthia Barnes created the National Association of Women Sales Professionals (NAWSP). I first met Cynthia in San Francisco at a meeting about women in sales and learned about NAWSP. Checkout the job board for women looking for sales jobs, and for companies posting their open sales positions.
Then there’s Melinda Emerson, who’s known as The Small Biz Lady and hosts the SmallBizChat podcast. She’s an author, a speaker, and a fanatical supporter of women in small business. She realized that so many women start small businesses and find many challenges as they grow, so she started providing tips and resources to help “End Small Business Failure.” Learn more here.
The best conclusion to any discussion on women sales leaders is what Barb Giamanco wrote in her eBook:
“When I made the decision to convert the Women in Sales Podcasts into an eBook, the goal was to share expert advice and guidance that benefits anyone in sales, sales management, and those who aspire to advance in their sales career. It’s also my goal to encourage business leaders to move from talk to action on the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion in sales.
More companies must make balancing the diversity scales in sales a strategic business priority. Words without action are only information, and by itself, information does not change things.”
I couldn’t agree more. It’s time for business leaders to stop talking and start taking action. And when they do, I know several trailblazing women sales leaders who can help them find all the new saleswomen they want.
Want more on women in sales? Listen to the 3rd episode of my new Black in the Black show, “Women in Sales Rule in 2021 [Thanks to These 5 Tips.”]