Gender Equality & Medical Sales
We’ve all heard the infamous statistic: “Women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.”
We’ve also heard the counterargument that the logic behind the statistic is flawed. The statistic doesn’t account for the number of hours that men work versus women. It doesn’t account for differences in industries or experience. It doesn’t account for a multitude of factors that influence wages. It attempts to provide a neat and tidy explanation for an issue that is anything but simple.
The same thing happens when you look at wage statistics within the medical sales industry. According to the MedReps 2014 Salary Report, men make around 19% more than their female counterparts. However, when you examine the reasons why, something doesn’t quite add up. Only 14% of women hold management or director positions. In addition, fewer than 1 in 5 sell more expensive and more lucrative products, such as surgical equipment. While assuming gender bias would make for a simple argument, a closer look reveals that the issue is much more complex.
While we can’t promise any easy answers to this difficult issue, we are going to attempt to explain and foster a better understanding of the gender wage gap and gender inequality as they relate to the medical sales industry. What we’ve determined is that there are three issues that encourage gender bias in medical sales: company culture, industry stigmas, and unconscious bias.
Where We Are Now
Driven by competition and assertiveness, the sales industry has traditionally been a male dominated field. However, according to a LinkedIn report on workplace diversity the number of women employed in sales has increased in the last ten years, up from 36 % to 39 %. Furthermore, 27 % of women in sales hold a management or director position.
Leading the way for women who are in sales is the healthcare industry. The report finds that 46% of women in the healthcare industry are in sales (most likely not accounting for doctors and nurses). Yet, while women are gaining traction in sales as a whole, they are still largely underrepresented. In addition, while women have found a foothold in medical sales, there are still many concerns to be addressed.
The sales industry is often characterized as a “boys club”, where women may have a hard time fitting in or gaining respect. While overt sexism is not often practiced in today’s workplace, the subtle forms that do still persist are nearly as harmful. Some companies have cultures where women are assumed to only be successful at historically stereotypical roles that require less assertiveness and leadership.
On the other hand, a number of companies have started bringing their A-game to support their female salesforce. Mentoring, flexible schedules, free childcare, employee resource groups and many other perks are being offered for employees to succeed, including female employees. However, one of the most enlightening things we’ve uncovered is that in many cases, female salespeople are apprehensive to take advantage of these types of company benefits for fear of being penalized or passed over for promotions. In some cases, whistleblowers were punished by being transferred to less desirable sales areas.
Companies are still struggling with the stereotype of being a boys club. While the company may support their female employees through a number of initiatives, changing the culture takes a little more time and effort. Women may face an uphill battle gaining respect and recognition. However, the industry as a whole is open to change.
Healthcare has traditionally been an industry where women can make a decent living and are more likely to be on even footing with men. This plays into our cultural perception of women being more nurturing, occupying the role of nurse or caregiver. However, men typically dominate roles that are more technical and typically more lucrative, such as doctors. This same situation is reflected in medical sales.
The medical sales industry has the largest percentage of women in sales who self-identify themselves as a salesperson. On the other hand, statistics show that women are typically employed in segments with compensation packages that are generally lower than in other fields, with 36% employed in pharmaceuticals, and another 30% in home care services. Fewer women work in segments such as medical device, health IT or biotechnology. These fields are often viewed as being more technical and requiring greater sales acumen.
Salespeople employed in medical device often work directly with physicians and are responsible for closing lucrative large-dollar deals. Pharmaceutical reps, while still in a sales role, are often viewed as less experienced than their med device counterparts because they are only responsible for persuading physicians to prescribe their companies’ products. This has created a stigma in the industry towards pharmaceutical reps. While not overtly sexist, this situation gives the impression there may be an underlying bias against pharmaceutical reps in general, and against women in particular, who, by and large, work mostly in pharmaceuticals. In addition, pharmaceutical companies have, in the past, been known to hire women to appeal to their target audience of older male doctors. These factors are changing, with more women seeking a career in med device or biotech, but the progress is slower than in other areas.
Are women not fully represented in areas such as device and health IT because they are perceived as less savvy than their male peers? In addition, are there more women employed in the pharmaceutical field because companies view them as more valuable for their audience? While this argument does not speak for all women and all experiences within the industry, as there female sales reps that are more than capable of working in device or pharmaceuticals, it is not hard to imagine that these stigmas, whether true or false, may influence hiring decisions and wages.
One of the hardest things to identify and regulate is unconscious bias. Overt sexism is largely passé in the workplace; however, our ingrained cognitive biases, deeply rooted in our evolutionary and cultural past, have a subtle effect on the way we make decisions.
There have been numerous studies that have shown when leadership is presented with identical resumes from male and female candidates, male candidates are viewed more favorably. Even when a woman is looking at another woman’s resume, there are similar results.
The truth is, a bias isn’t always a bad thing. It helps us make rapid decisions. However, a quick decision isn’t always the right decision. While we may be apt to go with our gut, we also need to do a gut check of our internal biases and consider if we would have the same opinion of a candidate if they were of the opposite sex.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The gender wage gap, while apparent, isn’t the simple issue that politicians or interest groups would like the general public to believe. While the world clamors for a simple solution that says everyone gets equal pay for equal work, defining what that is and how to achieve it will take time and understanding. In the meantime, what we can do is stay aware of how the issue affects the medical sales industry and support measures for diversity and equality within our respective companies.
2014 MedReps Salary Survey
“Trends of Women in Sales Infographic”, LinkedIn, June 24, 2014
“How to Transition from Pharmaceutical Sales to a Medical Device Sales Career“, MedReps.com
“Why are Women Biased Against Other Women?”, ideas.time.com, October 4, 2012