Knowledge Center

Knowing the Territory: Women in Sales

An analysis of women in business-to-business sales, Knowing the Territory: Women in Sales shows barriers they may experience, identifies strategies to enhance their success in the field, and profiles model programs and practices. The study identifies those aspects of sales careers that are favorable to women and that may be transferable to other areas in corporations.

Impetus: The purpose of this study is to examine the issues and biases that keep women from advancing into sales management.


  • Catalyst worked for three years with 21 companies to gather data for this report. Companies examined represented the nondurable consumer goods, services, and commodities industry groupings.

  • Researchers held three daylong roundtables with sales representatives, sales managers, and human resources professionals.

  • Focus groups were conducted with women and sales representatives.

Findings: Current recruitment practices work against the hiring of qualified women in field sales and sales management. Sales managers have considerable autonomy and, in some companies, fail to communicate or implement human resources policies that have proven effective in retaining women in sales. The percentage of women managers (14 percent) is low compared to the percentage of women actually in sales jobs (26 percent), most women who actually make it to management remain at the lower end of management. Recommendations for those recruiting for sales positions include enhancing the image of sales careers by emphasizing the opportunities and professional nature of sales. In particular, emphasis must be placed on the skills and knowledge involved, the consultant nature of sales, and the advantages of a business-to-business sales career.

Sponsors: Corning Incorporated Foundation, Federal Express, MCI Foundation, Miles Inc. Foundation, The Principal Financial Group, Proctor & Gamble Co, Prudential Foundation, Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Inc., RJR Nabisco Inc., and Union Carbide Foundation