The sales sector as a whole has struggled to cast off the reputation of being predominantly comprised of white, middle-aged men. And while gender equity tends to be the biggest focus of diversity drives, there are also many concerns around a lack of diversity in regards to ethnicity, disabilities, and the LGBTQIA+ community.

The current imbalance in the sales sector creates a vicious cycle. It is incredibly difficult to encourage diverse candidates into an industry with limited diversity, because they often do not feel they would belong or have adequate support.

So, how can sales teams create meaningful improvements when it comes to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I)? There is no quick fix, but businesses that are committed to addressing their issues and taking appropriate action will garner benefits in the long-term.

Read on for a breakdown of the top strategies employers can use to help diverse talent thrive in their sales teams.

Want to attract diverse sales talent? Start by getting your house in order

Change does not happen overnight, and it must start from within your organisation. To perform well, employees need to feel safe and supported, regardless of their background or who they are. Reviewing your employee value proposition (EVP) is a good place to start.

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It can often be difficult to recognise your own knowledge gaps – you don’t know what you don’t know, after all. Working with external consultants who specialise in DE&I, such as Page Consulting, can be a huge help. By bringing in specialists, you’ll be able both to identify long-term and short-term opportunities, and to educate your workforce on the relevant issues, like the difference between equality and equity, or unconscious bias.

One of the most important things is to show that you are trying. Whether it’s celebrating holidays and awareness days or months like International Women’s Day and PRIDE, or making adjustments in the workplace that engender equity, employees and candidates recognise the effort as long as the intention behind it is genuine. 

At the same time, there is massive value in simply listening to people from underrepresented backgrounds and giving those voices the opportunity to be heard when they want to educate those around them. Assess whether you are truly doing this, and whether you embrace constructive feedback as an opportunity to learn rather than a criticism. Finally, make sure that potential candidates can see that this is an important part of your culture during the hiring process.

How can you make your hiring strategy more inclusive?

From advertising a role through to making an offer, there are many things to consider that could help you establish a diverse team. For example, at Michael Page Sales, we use up-to-the-minute AI to ensure job adverts use inclusive language.
But it’s not just what you say that matters – it is also where you look for talent. For instance, our teams often liaise with advocacy groups or target particular locations and specialist job boards, thereby widening the talent pool and reaching those who may otherwise have been missed. This makes a huge difference and allows us to help our clients build the diverse sales teams they need.

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Building a diverse talent pool from the bottom up

While you might change your hiring strategy to create diverse shortlists, it all means nothing if you don’t follow through. Sometimes, high-calibre, diverse candidates are cut from shortlists because they don’t have the right experience – but how can these candidates, who have so much potential, get the experience they need if no one is prepared to give them the opportunity?

It’s also important to make sure the DE&I commitments made by senior leadership teams filter down to the hiring managers who are actually interviewing candidates. In sales in particular, the success of those hiring managers is almost always based on meeting targets, rather than on diversity. It’s therefore common for sales teams to hire candidates who seem like they can hit the ground running – which unfortunately can leave those less experienced candidates by the wayside.

However, it’s worth noting that someone with great potential and the right soft skills, but limited direct sales experience, could still be the best person for the job – and this is true of candidates from underrepresented groups, as well. Their experience gives them a different perspective and will therefore contribute to your organisation’s diversity of thought. They could bring new ideas and selling strategies to the table and even identify untapped markets that previously may not have been on the radar.

One approach which could benefit the whole sector is for sales departments to maintain a particularly strong focus on diversity at the entry level and on promoting internally. This addresses any concerns about experience, and today’s entry level workers will be managers in 10 years – so in the long-term there will be a more diverse talent pool at all levels. In the shorter-term, employers should ensure that diverse talent can access the right support and resources to advance and gain access to promotion opportunities.
Of course, this approach hinges on a strong retention strategy that enables you to keep diverse candidates – both those you already work with and those you’ll hire in the future. If you’re looking for insights on keeping your people motivated and happy in their roles, be sure to check out our recent Talent Retention eBook

What’s next?

With an industry-leading commitment to diversity, Michael Page Sales has the tech, experience, and broad networks to help businesses find diverse sales talent. To start hiring today, please get in touch with the team.  

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