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why are there many dodgy salesmen, but not as many dodgy saleswomen?

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A story by Ron @ The Wisdom Journal reminded me that it’s not uncommon for now respectable members of the personal finance blogging community to have once been salesmen of slightly dodhy insurance policies and other products. I use the word salesmen advisedly, as although there are nearly as many women blogging about personal finance as there are men, it doesn’t look as if any of them have held a job as anything like door to door saleswomen.

Of course, it’s possible that they have, but I just don’t know about their stories. But, now that I think about it, I’m not sure that I know many women in real life either who have worked in truly aggressive sales industries, with sales commission making up a large part of their pay. I have known salesmen, and male telesales people, and women who work in sales and marketing with performance related pay. But not women that have basically worked almost entirely on commission.

Unless of course, you count the Avon lady, the Tupperware party woman, and other related jobs. Although they are reasonably similar, they are generally seen as only for part-time work and *extra money* whereas a door to door insurance salesperson is expected to make a full-time living out of sales.

I wonder whether there is a hiring discrimination on the part of employers. Or maybe (and more significantly) a choosing discrimination on the part of women. I know that it would never have occurred to me to get the sort of job that Ron and JD have described. Most of the women I know (including fellow blogger Mrs. Micah) would get temping work if they needed a full-time job quickly. On the plus side, these jobs are usually slightly more ethical, but they have less earning potential and if you’re not careful can suck women into one of the traditional *C* careers (clerical, cleaning, caring, checkout, children).

I’m not saying that we should have lots of people rushing out to become women from the Pru. I’m just wondering whether it says something about the willingness of women to take risks (and on the other side, of men to take unnecessary risks). Does it suggest that often women don’t take up the opportunity to learn sales skills? Or maybe that men aren’t willing to learn the mundane skills of business.

I think it bears out the research that says that when women invest they do so sensibly and slightly cautiously - whereas whilst men are more likely to invest, they exhibit riskier behaviour. (By the way, female investors do better on average than men, but that’s only because sensible is good.) Perhaps I’m reading too much into all this. But I thnk it’s interesting. Tell me what you think - I’m interested in opinions, ideas and anecdotes, although if you have hard facts and scientific evidence that would be good too. Let me know in the comments.

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12 comments for “why are there many dodgy salesmen, but not as many dodgy saleswomen?”

  1. I think you’re onto something here. I, personally, would never take a position that required me to sell a product for a nearly commission only based salary. Partially because I don’t like selling products I don’t wholeheartedly believe in, and partially because I don’t like to bug people into spending money.

    I’m much more interested in customers who seek me out because I provide a service they need or want. That way, everyone feels good about the exchange and not pressured.

    Posted by Momma | June 27, 2008, 12:33 pm
  2. Very interesting post. I never thought about it before. I would guess it’s due to assumptions made by society. Also, I know women in sales jobs, but it’s mostly in respectable sales jobs (pharmacy, consulting services, etc.), but I know very few women who sell cars.

    Posted by Chad @ Sentient Money | June 27, 2008, 2:15 pm
  3. I much prefer the idea of a salary or hourly wage to working on commission. Freelancing is similar to sales in some ways…and I dislike that about it.

    I would say it’s my practical side. I don’t want to work if I won’t get anything and I don’t want to play games (i.e. the whole sales thing) if I don’t have to. That may be the woman in me or just me. I also don’t like arguing with people….and I really wouldn’t want to sell people things they can’t afford.

    Posted by Mrs. Micah | June 27, 2008, 9:55 pm
  4. A lot depends on how desperate you are. When you feel that your wife and kids are looking only to YOU to put bread on the table, you’ll try just about anything that looks like it will help feed the family.

    The key, like the story taught, was to never GET in that position in the first place (the desperate position).

    Thank you for highlighting my blog post!

    Posted by Ron@TheWisdomJournal | June 28, 2008, 1:14 am
  5. @Momma:
    Everyone winning in a sale is a good thing. I think it’s part of the women are less aggressive myth/truth thing.

    I agree that it’s probably society.

    @Mrs. Micah:
    There’s a lot to be said for security. I also wouldn’t want to sell people things they can’t afford, but I think most people who have tried that at some point didn’t really want to either.

    I agree that you’ll do all sorts of jobs when you’re desperate that you wouldn’t otherwise pick, but I think it’s rarer for women to pick up sales work if they’re in a hard place than men.

    Posted by plonkee | June 28, 2008, 11:22 am
  6. Interesting question!

    Two aspects of this issue come immediately to mind.

    First, a really successful sales rep needs a wide circle of affluent business acquaintances. It’s not easy for women to enter those circles. Today’s NY Times, for example, has an article about the continuing gender discrimination at the Phoenix Country Club, where women are not allowed in the Men’s Grill, the place where much big-ticket business takes place (having had plenty of experience with the PCC, I probably will blog about this later today, after I finish the laundry, the shopping, the workman supervision, and the housework). If you can’t go where men customarily conduct this kind of business, you work at a big disadvantage.

    Second, when you cannot, because of social restrictions, to conduct business in this sort of low-key, low-pressure, and highly profitable style, you have to be very aggressive. High-earning saleswomen in my circles are generally brassy and tough. Many girls are socialized not to behave that way or to project that kind of demeanor.

    Such women work long, hard hours, to the detriment of their family and social lives. One friend, a fellow member of SDXB’s harem of ex-girlfriends, is consistently the top-selling Toyota salesperson of the year. She works seven days a week, and she habitually puts in many more than eight hours a day. She lives and breathes car sales. Her motivation is exactly as Ron says: years ago she was left as the sole support of two young daughters, one of whom, now an adult with her own child and advanced in a second pregnancy, remains dependent on her.

    In the Department of Dodginess, I can’t think of anything more dodgy than those pyramid schemes that have women recruiting other women to impose on their friends to come to “parties” where guests are subjected to sales pitches. It’s hard to say “no” to a friend’s invitation (although I’ve now memorized a repertory of excuses for why I can’t attend). Once you get there, you’re put on the spot when the hustler, who claims to be a dear friend of your friend, announces that the hostess will receive thus-&-such a generous gift for throwing the party, but only if the guests pony up a certain amount of cash by purchasing the junk she’s selling. Then she tries to recruit the guests to impose on THEIR friends for another sales party. Ugh!

    Posted by Funny about Money | June 28, 2008, 3:45 pm
  7. I work in B2B lead generation (telemarketing.) About nine months ago I piloted the new compensation program that had a lower base rate but more potential for bonuses based on revenue.

    While we were discussing the plan, I mentioned that the original base pay ($10) was too low, and I would not opt into the plan, because if I had a bad week or two, I’d have a hard time paying my rent. In fact, if I were considering this job, I wouldn’t take it at a $10 base pay.

    Some guy stood up and said something about “aren’t we all ’sales types’” and wouldn’t I be motivated to take a job with the potential to earn big bucks. I told him if I saw a help wanted ad talking about the “potential” for big bucks, I’d think it was a scam and move on.

    In the end, after the pilot program they changed the plan up a little so the base pay was $13 an hour, an amount I can live with. Apparently they listened to me and people with similar concerns. I did opt in to the new plan, and overall I think I’ve made more money. However, I have had bad weeks with no bonus. But I’ve been ok. Basically, I was right.

    The other “sales type” guy no longer works here. I think he took another job with a greater “potential for big bucks.”

    Posted by Sally Villarreal | June 28, 2008, 3:51 pm
  8. @Funny about Money:
    There’s a lot of truth to what you say. And I don’t think that women are reluctant to enter these jobs because women are less dodgy, but because they demonstrate it in other ways. Like parties.

    Having a base pay that you can live with is probably the best way of coping if you can get it.

    Posted by plonkee | June 28, 2008, 5:16 pm
  9. I think there are quite a few women working in insurance and real estate and their sales are comparable to those of men. In the real estate area I even think women are real talents :). Well, don’t bash me, but I have this theory: women do very well especially in domains where the target customers are men. The only areas where women do good business with women are those implying low responsibility or those for which they share some “frivolous” interest - like cosmetics or bedding or housewares or whatever, stuff like that.

    Posted by ricky | June 30, 2008, 12:31 pm
  10. I wouldn’t say there is hiring discrimination, at least in door-to-door sales. Sales companies actually prefer females because they are more appealing to the public, and do a lot better than men. Unfortunately sales jobs are less appealing to women than men because of the risk and rejection involved. I found that females preferred acceptance and assurance in their work environment more than men did.

    So I think your experience is due to the fact that there are just a lot fewer female salespeople than there are salesmen.

    Posted by David | July 5, 2008, 10:00 pm
  11. I don’t know if it is hiring discrimination. When I have been in a position to recommend sales hires I often favor the female applicants (not sure why). I think there is some truth to what one of the earlier posters said about risk and rejection vs. acceptance and assurance.
    Very thought provoking post though - thank you.

    Posted by Chris | October 1, 2008, 7:28 pm

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