Women@Okta Talk Women in Tech Sales

Women@Okta (W@Okta) recently launched a new program called W@Okta Talks, where Okta employees have the opportunity to present on the topic of their choice, and have so far included topics such as productivity and career growth. For our August event, we organized a panel focused on women in tech sales (watch the panel here). We invited external guests to join us in hopes of moving the conversation around gender diversity in tech companies forward. The turnout was impressive – we had more than 100 guests in person and 30 join remotely.

The panel consisted of a panel of four women at different stages of their career. Okta was represented by Allison Lai, mid-market account executive, and Mia Fair, corporate account executive, both of whom were number one in their sales division. We were also thrilled to be joined by Carina Brockl, director of emerging sales & digital journey from Box, and Kate McMahon, senior director of sales from Zendesk. The distinguished panel was moderated by Women@Okta’s co-chair of philanthropic programs and Okta’s RVP of corporate sales, Garrett Stanton. The mission: to educate, inform and empower women to address challenges in navigating a career in a traditionally male-dominated field.

Why Aren’t There More Women in Tech Sales Leadership?

The conversation began grounded in statistics: 39% of salespeople in tech industry are women, and only 21% are VPs, and these figures have only climbed up by single digits in the next decade. First, the panel explored why. Fair pointed out that many of the words we use to describe salespeople are very masculine - competitive, aggressive, closer. “We need to broaden that to describe someone that is a great listener, good at reading body language, in-tune with other people’s emotions,” said Fair. “We need to change the language.” McMahon referenced The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance---What Women Should Know by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay – men apply to a job if they meet 60% of the qualifications on a job description, whereas women won’t apply unless they meet 100% of the qualifications listed. And when the language for sales roles tend to be masculine and they don’t check off every single qualification – just imagine how many women self-select out from these jobs.

Women In Tech Sales DayintheLife

“Women are so used to following the rules and doing everything by the book. We need to be okay with failure, fear, and taking risks,” said McMahon. “For me, every time I’ve made that leap it has ended up working out in my favor.” Brockl agreed: “Taking a calculated risk can really accelerate your career.”

How to Shape Your Career as a Woman in Tech

Some of the panelists started their career in sales by chance. When asked how formal education played a role in developing their careers, Lai said she believes that everything she has learned was learned on the job: “That may be a reason why we don’t see more women in sales – more women go to graduate school to learn the skills they need to advance their career.” The single most valuable thing Lai has learned is how to work with people – how to read body language, inflections, tones – and use that information to influence people and close the deal.

Other than learning by doing, finding an advisor and guide plays a huge role in shaping anyone’s career. “There are many different types of support that you can get in your career,” said McMahon. “Your peers, your supervisor, someone three levels above you, someone in a different industry – you can have mentors, sponsors, advocates, and coaches.” And these relationship don’t need to be ceremonial: you don’t have to formally ask someone to be your mentor, Lai pointed out, just ask for advice and start building the relationship. We hear talk about the positive impact of mentors all the time, but Brockle emphasized the importance of finding a sponsor – someone at your current company who will go to bat for you when it’s time for the promotion.

Don’t Forget to Pay it Forward

All panelists agreed that as important as it is to find a support system that works for you, it is vital to pay it forward – and this may be the key behind getting more women in sales. McMahon said that a big misconception is that women are all fighting for the few leadership roles in sales and that there isn’t enough room: “But there is plenty of room at the top for all women.”

Women@Okta would like to thank our panelists and moderator for their thoughtful responses and insights, and to the audience for their attendance and participation. We had such an impressive turnout that we’ve decided to open one of our W@Okta Talk events each quarter to external guests –- the next of which will be on December 4th. We’ll share the invitation via Okta’s LinkedIn closer to the event, so mark your calendar and stay tuned!