When I look at the significant transformation happening in the corporate workplace, I am always struck by the lack of representation for Black women in the tech sales industry. In order to understand why we aren’t seeing major growth in the participation of Black women in this space, it’s important to understand the historical and current state of the industry and the barriers that need to be removed to facilitate a transformed industry.
While I would support and encourage women of all races to enter and compete in the world of technology business development, the Black woman is probably most notably absent from this career and in the marketplace today.
Women in the Tech Business Development space have certainly shown they have all the skills and probably some advantages over their male counterparts, however, they have also suffered the biases of sexism in a male-dominated industry.
If we look at why and how men end up in Tech Sales and Business Development, it may give us a clue as to how to address the imbalance in our current society and meaningfully empower women in tech.
There are two main routes to enter High Tech Business Development; one is a Technology background, which I was lucky to have because I studied engineering and computer science. Many market sales engineers come from this position and often end up working often in Pre-sales first and then converting to full time sales or Sales leadership.
That pool of candidates of tech engineers is historically very small in terms of women, and even smaller when you look at Black women. This is why it’s critical to begin making information about these careers easily accessible whilst simultaneously profiling – and giving visibility to – Black women who are in the industry so that younger Black women can be attracted to pursue studies in this field in greater numbers.
Movements such as https://girlcode.co.za/ and trends forecasting the critical role that Technology will increasingly play in the future of business across all sectors, now is the time to invest in developing a pipeline of Black women who will enter the tech space via their chosen field of studies and/or experience.
Sales is often referred to as a funnel for producing potential tech sales leaders, but the trend has been that women, Black women especially, fall out of this funnel as they progress and we need to understand what the contributing factors to that trend are.
The tech/engineering sector is historically a sexist, male-dominated environment. Whether you’re in Silicon Valley or South Africa, the face of tech is the same; it’s male and mostly white. The biases of the past and the stereotypes of engineering and tech being careers for men are still very pervasive.
As a result, when talented women engineers enter this industry and compete alongside male counterparts, they tend to keep their head down and just get on with the job. They tend to not position themselves as the outspoken subject matter experts that salespeople look for to accompany them to clients.
So, why should Black women consider business development important or useful to their career options?
One of the most obvious reasons to gain experience in the sales skills set is for budding start-up entrepreneurs who often will be writing the code, doing the demo and then also having to pitch the solutions to customers or investors. In my experience, this is one of the weaknesses of many talented engineers and founders in tech start-ups; they lack the ability to look past the tech and sell the business value of their ideas to the room.
Sales is mainly about mastering soft skills and Black women tend to have these skills in greater abundance than their male counterparts and they need to realize that they can successfully and sustainably compete in this space. Black women should look at it as a viable skill set to learn and that in the current and future transformation of corporate South Africa, they are well-positioned to play a key role in the business development side of technology start-ups, SME’s and global vendors.
My advice for Black women entering the workplace of the 4th industrial revolution is:
1. Don’t think for a moment you can’t compete or have a seat at the table of high tech sales and business development. It’s all stereotypes that have to be challenged and whether or not the world and South Africa are ready, it is time for you to stand up and boldly enter this space.
2. There has never been a better time to learn how to sell to a transformed leadership base in SA, so take advantage of the opportunities before you.
3. Consider Sales and Business development may look like skills you have to be born with, but, like everything else, it can be taught and practiced.
By Craig Leppan
Craig is a B2B Sales Coach and Strategy consultant that is committed to empowering South Africa to succeed.