Known for their best-in-sales organizations and strong bench of women in leadership, Hubspot and Litmus have both earned recognition on Inc.’s 2020 Best Places to Work List. So how are they moving the needle on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in sales?
Leigh Brown, Sales leader at HubSpot, dug into it with her former boss and mentor, Brooke Freedman, Sales leader at Litmus. They talked about their unusual entries into their careers in sales, the state of the profession, tactics for hiring-in diverse talent, and how to coach with intention to build world-class sales teams.
Ideas on What It’s Like (vs Reality!), Pay Equity, and Sponsorship Hold Diversity in Sales Back
“Data shows women don’t often go for a job unless they feel 100% qualified. That was me, I wasn’t a confident interviewer. But my first promotion at Hubspot was because my manager sought me out for it. I had that person who gave me the confidence to reach for more, and it’s helped me be really cognizant to help others who are underrepresented now.” – Leigh Brown, Sales leader at HubSpot
Both Brown and Freedman never saw themselves entering the profession that ultimately won their organizations awards. The image in their heads was that sales is an inflexible, high-stress, inauthentic career for older caucasian men.
And the gender equity gap doesn’t help assuage fears that sales isn’t a viable career path for women, especially for women of color and parents (McKinsey and LeanIn.org 2020 Women in the Workplace Report). In fact, CEB Global/Gartner found the sales function has the second largest gender equity pay gap of all corporate functions. The study went on to report “50 percent of female sales professionals feel they have the same opportunities for advancement as their male counterparts, despite having the same skills, experience and qualifications.”
What changed their minds? Sponsorship – a practice many diversity and inclusion practitioners cite as a key intervention to diversify top leadership.
They had people who recognized potential in them and made it their responsibility to support their career. Right now though, 71% of self-identified sponsors still have proteges that are the same race or gender as themselves according to research at the Center for Talent Innovation. Affinity
What does being a sponsor entail?
- Proactively look for performers of a different race or gender than you
- Believe in and go out on a limb for your protege
- Use your organizational capital for them, both when present and not
- Push for their promotion and provide “air cover” for risk-taking and stretch goals
In order to move the needle for diversity, equity, and inclusion directors and Vice Presidents in sales and human capital must prioritize proactive sponsorship both inside and outside the organization. As a result, representation will begin to change in leadership and the equity gap will shrink.
The opportunity: unlocking potential to reap the benefits of diversity
“If you’re focused on hiring-in a diversity of talent, you have to put the same focus on being inclusive, to set people up for success. It’s your responsibility as a manager to think about celebrating differences in the training room, during onboarding and while growing your team.” – Leigh Brown, Sales leader at HubSpot
No one shows up to fail, and we know that behaviors are the biggest indicators of performance in sales (HBR). We also know behaviors don’t come from specific schools, specific employment histories, or genders – they come from experiences throughout our life, usually before mid-30’s.
There are six behaviors that science has shown map to quota attainment, customer and employee retention, bigger deal size, and culture alignment. That’s why leading sales organizations are starting to measure these behaviors as they do skills with behavioral AI assessments.
Leaning into those behaviors helps employees and coaches understand their own behavioral strengths, which behaviors to practice more or less of to heighten performance, and highlight a career path they’ll feel a great sense of belonging in.
So what does it mean to build an inclusive culture and move DEI goals to outcomes?
- DEI is part of the job in building a successful sales organization, so put it on your calendar, make it a commitment on a regular basis.
- With recruiting go out of your way to mentor and sponsor someone who doesn’t look like you.
- Understand performance and be proactive about looking for people who would be great in leadership roles, not well-intentioned opinions.
Visibility into an employee’s behavior helps empower coaching and onboarding for both sides – what everybody needs to succeed and belong from the start.
Coach with Intention
“You can’t treat every salesperson the exact same. Often coaches tend to teach the way they want to be coached – but that’s a bias. Instead, if you can understand what drives them, where they want to grow and learn, you build trust and improve belonging.” – Brooke Freedman, Sales leader at Litmus
Do you remember the first person who took a chance on you? That feeling is where belonging begins.
To reap the benefits of diversity and belonging up and down the organization, coaching and internal mobility is the fastest, most cost-effective way to get there.
Motivators for someone fresh out of college are likely vastly different from a parent or someone who recently pivoted their career though. Inside sales in particular is a growing career trend for parents and caretakers. Taking the time to ask “what does success look like for you at the end of a year of mentorship?” together with skills and behavior assessments, sketches a shared roadmap for who has aspirations for leadership and more importantly how specifically to get them there.
“Try sales. Too few people get good at sales. And, if you’re in a position where people are looking to you for your perspective you have a responsibility to bring others in.” – Brooke Freedman, Sales leader at Litmus
“Take time out of your day and figure out a way to commit to DEI – whether it’s helping source for recruiting teams, starting a LinkedIn conversation with someone who’s curious about a career in sales. Even if you’re a sales rep wanting to get into sales management, there’s something everyone can do regardless of the size of your platform.” Leigh Brown, Sales leader at Hubspot
DEI in sales is a business problem, and it’s everyone’s business to do something about it.
Learn how understanding behaviors based on objective metrics moves the needle for diversity and inclusion, and download the 6 steps to understanding behavior at work here.