According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 49% of salespeople are women. LinkedIn’s data, however, tell us women make up only 31% of software sales.

But should we care about a gender imbalance in sales jobs? Intriguing new research suggests yes because women may have a competitive advantage in sales.

The growing importance of social skills

Research by Harvard professor Deming examined survey data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 1979 to 2012, which includes data on people’s social skills, cognitive abilities, employment, and wages.

After controlling for a variety of factors related to wages (e.g., education, cognitive abilities, occupation, industry, geographical region), Deming found an increase of one standard deviation in social skills corresponds to an increase in hourly wages of 2.1%. That’s a lot of money!

He also found that over the past few decades, the best paying jobs have increasingly required social skills (e.g., coordination, negotiation, persuasion, social perceptiveness). In fact, almost all job growth since 1980 has been in professions that  have relatively high social skill requirements.

Why? Quite simply, computers still aren’t very good at stimulating human interaction.

The female social skills advantage

Deming’s analysis found that since 1980, the types of jobs that men work in haven’t really changed. For women, however, he found a large decrease in jobs characterized by routine tasks with an equal increase in jobs requiring social skills. This means there were relatively more women employed in professions with higher social skill requirements in 2012 than in 1980.

Research suggests that this female social skills advantage may be due in part because women, on average, are better at empathizing and accurately perceiving how others are feeling.

The female sales advantage?

Jobs with a heavy social skills component require negotiation, persuasion, and social perceptiveness. Sound familiar? These are some of the essential skills required for successful selling.

Deming’s data found people with higher social skills tend to self-select into non-routine and social skill-intensive jobs. Research tells us salespeople higher in empathy make more money and emotionally intelligent salespeople achieve higher sales revenue. A study by Professor Verbeke and colleagues found that salespeople high in both social skills and cognitive ability outsell their peers.

The takeaway

Research suggests that women’s social skills create a competitive advantage for jobs that require complex human interaction such as sales. But the data tell us women are underrepresented in tech and software sales jobs.

This may change as companies realize they’re not strategically leveraging the social skills advantage that women bring to sales – and missing out on a lot of potential sales revenue.

Want to assess your own social skills? Take our 5 minute quiz and discover your unique sales personality at Selling IQ.

Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone
Ji-A Min

Ji-A Min

Head Data Scientist at Ideal
Ji-A Min is the Head Data Scientist at Ideal. With a Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Ji-A promotes best practices and data-based HR. She writes about trends and research in talent acquisition, people analytics, and workplace diversity.
Ji-A Min