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A Deeper Look Into How Gender Impacts Medical Sales Earnings

Gender barriers in sales are often viewed as black and white. There are inherent problems, leaders and employees are working to resolve them…and that’s that. 

We’ve found gender inequality issues in sales are much more complex. In our 2019 9th Annual Medical Sales Salary Report, many sales reps of both genders mentioned they recognize the presence of a ‘boys club’ in medical sales. These comments sparked our curiosity, so we dug deeper in our recent research for The State of the Sales Industry ‘Boys Club’ in 2019 report. 

We discovered the stats didn’t fully line-up with voluntary comments from both male and female medical sales reps regarding the impact of gender in our salary report. As expected, 41.5% of female sales reps agree their salary is negatively impacted by gender. However, 51.2% of female sales reps — just slightly less than males (55.5%) — say gender positively impacts their careers. 

Based on a number of apparent discrepancies between experiences with gender inequality, we decided to look into the possible reasons sales reps responded the way they did. Here’s our informed interpretation of the bigger picture that’s impacting the correlation between medical sales earnings and gender: 

Personal experiences

Gender generally impacts earnings on a case-by-case basis. Especially in sales, there are various factors that go beyond base pay and commission that can negatively or positively affect overall pay. 

Respondents in our 2019 9th Annual Medical Sales Salary Report share data each year that is proof of this concept. We measure salary in medical sales based on sales market, company size, products sold, base salary from company to company, commission structure, and even how factors such as travel and time spent in the OR affect pay.

However, when asked whether gender had an impact on earnings, a female respondent shared, “I know I am currently paid less than the three male sales reps on my team, yet I am the most senior and the highest performer,” while a male respondent revealed personal experiences with gender inequality aren’t only impacting female sales reps. One male respondent said, “I make less than female equivalents in my company.”

Performance and seniority are both objective metrics. But there are various unknown factors that impact overall salary, such as previous work experience, commission potential based on relationship-building with customers, and even specialty skills and time-traveled to take into consideration.

While it’s impossible to gather every bit of information about your peers’ personal experiences, it’s important to take the measurable factors you do have to managers. You can, and should, actively communicate and raise your case about the facts you know about your personal experience and performance.

Another female sales rep in our salary report did just that and is working toward closing the gender pay gap. 

“The men in my same role get paid more base salary,” she said. “I’m currently in negotiations to have that changed because I have proof that they don’t have any more qualifications or experience than I do and I outperform them.”

Overcome gender barriers: Look at gender barriers as the enemy — not peers of the opposite gender. Everyone has their own personal experiences and medical sales’ mountains to climb. Start collaborating and cultivating trust by sharing how gender barriers have impacted you. Then, use the combination of your trials and tribulations to address leadership as a united front with your peers of all genders.

Personality

Sometimes gender barriers run deep into the company’s foundation, making it challenging to navigate change and increase earnings. However, your personality plays a big part in overcoming those obstacles in sales. 

For instance, in our ‘boys club’ report, 43.6% of female sales reps say compensation negotiation is negatively impacted by their gender. The majority of males (61%), however, say their power of negotiation is positively impacted by their gender. 

There is, unfortunately, a possibility your salary negotiations will be impacted by gender bias. But by knowing your personality type and working on your approach to negotiations, you can overcome those barriers.

How confident are you? How calm are you? How stressed are you by having to negotiate? Do you know your worth? Are you adequately prepared to prove it? Understanding how you feel entering into negotiations sets you up to gather your resources and information effectively and get the offer, raise or promotion you deserve regardless of your gender. 

Some sales reps use their natural personalities to help them excel in the medical sales setting. This is especially true in sales, where 65.2% of our ‘boys club’ report respondents agree there’s a boys club mentality in the sales industry. 

When you take a step back, however, you see the prevalence of the ‘boys club’ isn’t holding most sales reps back from overcoming gender barriers and excelling in unique ways. For example, 50.7% of female respondents say their gender positively impacts networking opportunities. Those who find ways to use their personality as an asset are helping drive gender barriers into the ground. 

Additionally, sales reps with an empathetic nature positively impact earnings for everyone in medical sales. Both male and female reps in our ‘boys club’ report say they’d actively advocate for change within their company if the ‘boys club’ persists. 

One male respondent in our salary report provides the perfect example of someone with an empathetic nature that possesses the power to help drive change. “Regardless of the efforts made, I feel like men are compensated and given opportunities at a rate that favors that gender,” he said. “There are multiple ways women have made progress, and the area I work in is 70% women, but that bias for males stills exists.”

It’s this type of awareness that impacts how the ‘boys club’ and other gender barriers are approached and will, ultimately, be removed from the medical sales industry over time. 

Overcome gender barriers: Use your personality to your advantage. If you feel it’s pointless because your current company’s outdated practices or policies will still hold you down, it’s time for a change. Look for mentors of both genders to help you understand where you’ll excel best based on your traits and experiences. And don’t forget to employ an empathetic and understanding nature to help your peers exceed barriers as well. 

Perceptions

Perception is the recognition and interpretation of sensory information. It also includes how we respond to information. Study.com explains it as a process in which we take in sensory information from our environment and use that information to interact with our environment. 

Your perceptions at work are derived from the information you take in around you. That’s why people have various interpretations of how gender impacts earnings in sales. Of course, this isn’t to say anyone’s perceptions are wrong. However, it does mean there must be an awareness of where those perceptions come from and how they can be used to empower yourself and those around you. 

Sales reps in the ‘boys club’ report offer a perfect example of how perceptions impact gender bias and how to overcome those perceptions. Both male and female sales reps (61.1%) agree gender bias is prevalent in the sales industry. 

However, keep in mind, more than half of female sales reps say their gender positively impacts their career in sales. Even though the overall perception is gender bias is prevalent, many female sales reps don’t see their gender as a barrier. In fact, over half (50.7%) said the level of respect received from clients is positively impacted by their gender.

On the flip side, while men agree there are gender barriers in sales, they’re only slightly more confident their gender positively impacts their sales careers, in spite of agreeing they are seeing the benefits of salary negotiations and higher pay.

So, what’s impacting these various perceptions regarding gender in sales? Quite simply, the culmination of your personality and personal experiences. Who you are and where you’ve been, naturally impact how you perceive the world around you and how you react to it — both the good and the bad. 

One male respondent in our salary report shared his employer made an announcement regarding the employment of female leadership. “My company made a statement that 50% of all leadership will be women by 2022. Regardless of ability,” he shared with us. 

To one person, this scenario may be a reason to celebrate. It could be a sign that the company is taking the necessary measures to put more female voices and perspectives into leadership roles — seeing potential and taking a strong initiative.

Others, however, may see only a risk of increased hiring and gender bias. They could perceive this move as overlooking more qualified candidates to meet diversity quotas. You and your colleagues’ personal experiences impact how this type of information is perceived and therefore, how you view the impact of these decisions on gender equality. 

A female respondent also shared her perceptions of an experience that occurred during new hire training. “Good ole boys club. I was the only female at our new hire training class and was singled out, targeted, and harassed while being pounded with questions the others were not presented with. Horrible experience,” she said.

This is a case where, depending on your perception, the leaders may have been attempting to empower the new hire. A difference in how this situation is perceived doesn’t change the sales reps’ reality or the severity of the horrible experience as they interpreted it. But it does show how differing personal experiences, personalities, and perceptions impact our interactions. 

Overcome gender barriers: Perception is reality, and everyone’s reality is different. Take a step back and look at the world around you through your teammates’ eyes. What have they experienced, personally and professionally, that has made them see the world the way they do? Use this awareness of others’ realities to increase tolerance and acceptance of their view of gender inequality. Then, together, you can begin to form movements, groups, and policies that appeal to the group as a whole. You can close the gap together, regardless of what angle you view it. 

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