Defeating Gender-Based Challenges in the Workplace

An increasing number of businesses are recognizing the skills and perspectives that women bring to sales. However, even in 2020 women still face gender-based challenges in the workplace. The good news is this: Even though you may face challenges, you can take affirmative steps to present yourself positively and set yourself up for career success.

Here are eight common challenges—and how you can address them.

1. Gender stereotypes about your ability to do the work.

Even well-intentioned people can sometimes make assumptions about women solely based on gender. For example, someone might believe—consciously or unconsciously— that women are inherently passive, or that they are not capable of handling complex technologies. A colleague might assume that you are more junior than you are, or that you don’t know a particular skill.

This is frustrating, but usually, the best way to deal with it is to show up and demonstrate your competence. Over time, most people will begin to see you as an individual with a lot to offer rather than as just a woman.

lIn cases where someone persists in making comments that question your ability, you might choose to explicitly call out the behavior yourself: “You know, I have worked in this field for x years and I know how to do this.” You can also talk to a trusted college or supervisor about how best to proceed.

2. Being excluded from networking events.

In recent years most companies have become more conscious about holding networking events in mixed-gender spaces. However, you still might experience a situation in which a key networking event takes place in a space that feels exclusive—such as a gentleman’s club or golf club. This can adversely impact your professional opportunities in small, often unseen ways.

If that happens, you have the right to talk with the person organizing the event and alert them to the problem. Say, “I and many other women don’t feel very comfortable in that space. Can we hold an event somewhere else?” If you are worried about blowback, turn to a supervisor or HR representative to intervene.

3. Gossip about how you obtained your position.

Gossip is endemic in most workplaces, and it’s not always harmless. Some women must deal with gossip about how they obtained a promotion.

To deal with this, it’s usually best to ignore the rumors at first. A lot of gossip dies off when it is not fed. You might also ask a few trusted colleagues to stand up for you when these conversations erupt.

If the rumors persist, consider confronting the person or department who is fueling the gossip. People often become shamed when confronted with their behavior. Ask them directly why they are spreading rumors.

If you don’t feel comfortable with direct confrontation—or if there are too many gossipers to deal with on your own—talk to your supervisor or another senior person in the organization. They can help dispel rumors and reprimand people who promote them maliciously.

4. Challenges asking for and receiving a promotion.

Many women struggle to ask for a promotion. Managers may suggest men over women when a position opens up. This causes women’s careers to stall in relation to their male peers. To overcome this problem, you need to be very deliberate in asking for a promotion. Let your direct supervisor know about your career goals and check in with them periodically. Ask directly, “what do I need to do to get a promotion?” This will help you come up with a game plan and puts your name in the manager’s mind when the topic of promotions arises.

5. Being underpaid relative to your male peers.

Data persistently shows that women are paid less than men across all fields, although this is less of a concern for sales roles with standard contracts.

An increasing number of organizations are making salary data available. Use this data to determine if your salary is on par to what men at your level are earning. If this information is not available, ask men you trust how much they are making. If you do find out that you are underpaid, raise the issue with your supervisor. Be matter-of-fact in how you approach the issue and draw on available data: “I have learned that most men in my position are making X more than me. Can we address that?”

6. Sexual harassment.

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is still a common experience in the workplace. If you’ve experienced this, read up on your company’s sexual harassment policy and go through the steps for reporting it. Following the protocol is a better option than trying to solve the problem on your own.

If your company does not have a clearly defined policy, talk to an HR representative. They can help you figure out how to deal with the situation effectively, without undue stress.

7. Feelings of imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome—the feeling that you aren’t qualified to hold your current position—can be anxiety-inducing. It is important to note that many men also experience imposter syndrome, but it is probably more common among women.

To deal with this, make a list of all your qualifications and successes. You might save positive feedback from supervisors and customers. Keep adding to the list and consult it when your feelings become overwhelming.

8. Feeling ignored and talked over in group meetings.

It’s common for women to struggle to be heard in group meetings. Try preparing your comments ahead of time so that you’re ready to jump in when appropriate. In some cases, it’s helpful to discuss this problem with the group leader or someone else in the group. Ask for them to create opportunities for everyone to contribute. Skilled leaders should know how to do this.

Having to deal with any of these perceptions and situations can be highly stressful. To navigate the workplace successfully, develop a strong support system and confidence in your ability to advocate for yourself. With support in place, you can deal with these gender-based challenges.