Meet the Company Closing the Gender Gap in Tech Sales
Recent research from sales data insights company Xactly suggests that women in sales are more likely to hit quotas and lead successful teams. So why do they make up just 25 percent of salespeople and only 12 percent of sales leadership in tech?
If the industry is going to become more equitable, which is imperative, then women need to be proportionally represented at every level of leadership in every department, including sales. That might be tough for the industry to achieve when data reveals that women in tech are less comfortable being themselves in the workplace. According to Built In’s State of DEI in Tech survey of workers of all gender identities, women are more likely to disagree with the statement, “I feel comfortable being my authentic self at work.”
Key leaders at MongoDB have something to say to the women in tech sales struggling to embrace their authentic selves: Sell like a girl.
“Don’t try to be a stereotypical salesman. Sell like yourself, sell like a girl, be who you are, connect with people,” said Regional Director of Corporate Sales Danielle Lemieux. “Women are generally better listeners and are more empathetic. We must emphasize that, to sell like a girl is to lean into those skills.”
In 2020, a few women at MongoDB rallied around this idea and formed the Sell Like A Girl affinity group to empower those who identify as women in tech sales at the company. The group is open to all who identify as women, transgender and nonbinary in the sales organization. By founding this group, these women are aiming to bolster inclusion at MongoDB and beyond, across the enterprise tech sales industry, by instilling confidence in the next generation of women leaders. Built In met with women from the Sell Like A Girl founding team to learn more about the significance of this type of group — in the industry, in the company and in their own lives.
Tell me about the idea behind this group.
Regional Director of Corporate Sales Danielle Lemieux: When I was promoted into leadership, I found myself to be one of a few women-identifying sales leaders in the organization. I felt alone, especially during the pandemic as we were all isolated at home. I thought there had to be other sales leaders I could connect with, so I reached out to HR and got a list of 10 women, some of whom helped me found this group. We needed a network that would allow us to share stories, successes, education, friendship and professional development opportunities. Since starting the group as the only woman sales leader in corporate sales, MongoDB has shown tremendous growth and added more women leaders to our team. Our goal is to continue supporting and developing women in sales at MongoDB and helping them reach their career goals. It is incredible to have played a part in this growth by vocalizing the need for equal representation to senior sales leadership.
Senior Director of Corporate Sales North America Stephanie Samuels: I have been in enterprise sales for, dare I say it, 20 plus years. Part of what I’ve done in that time is mentor women and people of color. Twenty years ago, I didn’t see anyone in any organization who looked like me. This inspired me to help other women and people of color get into and thrive in tech sales.
Associate Account Executive Manager Maya Monico: I’m passionate about this group because women are severely underrepresented in tech. I don’t think that’s a secret to anybody. It takes really strong, brave women to change the outlook for tomorrow.
Describe the group. Who can join? What is the culture like?
Samuels: The Sell Like A Girl group is open to anyone who identifies as a woman and made up mostly of individual contributors who are just starting their sales careers. Though we want to create a safe space for the members of our group, we also open a lot of our events to allies. For example, sponsorship and mentorship are open to men because we see them as important allies to our group.
Lemieux: Sell Like A Girl typically meets once a month. We talk about topics such as parental leave advocacy, being a woman in a space dominated by men and imposter syndrome. We’re trying to create a safe space and also trying to have fun getting to know each other, which is the idea behind an upcoming event where members will be able to drink wine and learn about personal finance.
Monico: This group is made up of women from around the globe. I think it’s powerful that we have the opportunity to meet with members all over the world who are dealing with unique issues. We pride ourselves on being a global company and valuing differences. We create a safe space that isn’t centered around one region. It crosses borders. That makes it especially powerful.
We pride ourselves on being a global company and valuing differences. We create a safe space that isn’t directed toward one nationality. It crosses borders. That makes it especially powerful.”
Describe what it is like being a woman in tech sales. What are some unique challenges that you face in the industry?
Samuels: We could dedicate the entire interview to answering this question! I have seen a lot of growth in the tech industry. There are certainly more women now, but it is still dominated by men.
For example: How do I negotiate parental leave? Coming back from leave, I’ve still got to have a great book of business and the ability to make as much money as I would have if I didn’t go on leave. There are so many different challenges. Some challenges are subtle, such as unconscious biases. I can say the same thing in the same tone as a male counterpart, and he might be perceived as driven while I may be perceived as a bitch.
Lemieux: I’ve been in tech sales for about nine years, and I’ve been in leadership for about two and a half. Being an individual contributor in tech sales can be isolating and there are some unique challenges: whether it’s walking into a room of peers and being the only woman, getting uncomfortable compliments or how it’s perceived when I take a prospect who’s a man out for a drink. There are all these challenging dynamics in terms of how to handle yourself.
To echo Stephanie’s point, there have been plenty of times I’ve been in a room and had something I said go unacknowledged, only to be co-opted by a counterpart who is a man. It’s taken me years to gain the confidence to step up and say something. If I don’t have an ally or another woman in the room to validate me, my reaction to this might be perceived as aggressive or needy rather than strong and independent. MongoDB has done an incredible job building a safe space, specifically in sales. The more women that we bring to the organization and help develop and promote, the stronger that network and community are going to be. That’s the main goal we have here, to get more women in the room.
Samuels: We not only need more women in the room, but it’s about having more women with a seat at the table, having a voice and influencing direction and strategic decisions.
Monico: The beginning of a person’s sales career is a make-or-break moment, especially for women. Unfortunately, many organizations may seem unwelcoming for women because they look around and don’t see themselves represented in leadership or among their peers. This can cause them to write off sales altogether and opt for another career path. I think part of the reason why this group is so powerful is that we’re deliberately working to instill confidence in every step of these young women’s careers to ensure they feel supported and see women in roles they aspire to be in.
It’s about having more women with a seat at the table, having a voice and influencing direction and strategic decisions.”
How has the Sell Like A Girl group impacted your life outside of your day-to-day work?
Lemieux: The group’s dialogue and conversations are inspirational for me. I didn’t realize that I had such a passion for mentoring younger women. It has impacted what I want to do in the future. I want to be a strong woman leader in tech sales — that’s my new drive and passion. That’s pretty cool!
Samuels: I’ve always been fairly visible at MongoDB. I am probably the only African American woman in leadership and sales. But being part of Sell Like A Girl and its initiatives has given me more exposure. People have learned more about me than what they would know just from my sales and performance. I think that the visibility from Sell Like A Girl has helped my career progression, and I’m pretty excited about that.
Monico: It’s made it clear that we need to act with urgency. It takes action to create the outcome that we want; we can’t rely on others to take care of it.
This group taught me that advocating for myself on issues such as parental leave is something that I should be thinking about. I’m not at the point where I want to have children, but that is something I plan to do. The group has given me information that will help me make those decisions when the time comes. That’s probably the case for many women in the group, who now know the steps to take to make the right decisions down the road.
Do you feel like these kinds of groups are necessary for closing the gender gap in tech?
Lemieux: At past companies I’ve worked for, I didn’t have a good network of women colleagues and found myself struggling to negotiate and advocate for myself. So, I left because I didn’t have a support system.
It’s especially important in technology sales, because it’s a grind. You need a network, and a group like Sell Like A Girl has a network inherently built in. People there have your back and know you are talented and can perform.
Samuels: When I was pregnant with my now 16-year-old daughter, I was working for a company that was known for being a gender inclusive place to work. But we found out that it was only a great place for women to work on the administrative side, not in sales. My maternity experience was horrendous. It was a case study on what not to do. My experience would have been a complete 180 if there was an organization like Sell Like A Girl. I would have known how to negotiate. I would not have been so afraid of losing my job on maternity leave. Times have changed, and now we’ve got organizations providing good information and knowledge to young people like Maya who will be planning that phase of their lives and careers. I’ve got people on my team going on parental leave, and the support I get from Sell Like A Girl allows me to be a good mentor and manager. I’m helping guide people through parental leave discussions.
Monico: Groups like this one allow us to tap into the differences that we all have and create the world that we want to work in. Even though we’re all women, there are still plenty of differences among us that need to be celebrated in order to ensure we don’t lose diversity of thought. Without that, we’re never going to make any improvements in creating the culture of inclusion that is necessary for long-standing success. Women can and do excel at sales, make great leaders and have so many unique talents. We need more groups like this across the tech industry to help foster confidence and develop those talents — with the end goal of establishing women in leadership as the norm at more than just MongoDB.
Sales is a tough career. It’s a grind. You need a network to ask questions or get help dealing with imposter syndrome.”
What would you want to share with someone considering joining MongoDB?
Samuels: Anyone who wants to join sales at MongoDB will get a master class in sales and become an outstanding seller by the time they leave. For people who identify as women in particular, MongoDB offers an organization and community of other sellers, leaders and allies who are going to make them feel supported, develop their careers and make them feel comfortable. You don’t get that at a lot of organizations.
Lemieux: The sales training and onboarding here are unparalleled. We invest a lot in sales education and training. Folks who join MongoDB are going to grow both professionally and personally. The people I’ve met, especially those through the Sell Like A Girl group, have been complete game-changers in the sense that they’ve become some of my best friends at the company who have helped me through challenging times, provided incredible guidance on career decisions and helped me become a stronger leader. My colleagues are collaborative, fun, intelligent, driven and motivated individuals. That’s not easy to find. When you add in the technology that we sell, the industry we’re in and the executive team that we have, you can’t beat it.