From the beginning of my career, I have firmly believed that women have just as much to contribute to business as men.
While it might sound cliché, I have always believed in a ‘fair go’, and gender equality is just that. A few years ago it dawned on me that more than just being the right thing to do, gender diversity in the workplace is the smart thing to do as it delivers significant competitive advantage.
At Autopia, our diversity journey started in 2009. Back then we were a small all-male team – not by design, or at least not by conscious design. We had already achieved great success and were focusing on continuing to grow the business. As the head of the corporate sales team, my focus was on expanding our business development function to ramp up our presence across Australia.
Over my initial three years at the company, I had met with hundreds of HR Directors across the country and had successfully forged business partnerships with many of them. But through the process, one thing became evident to me. While my male colleagues and I had done well, the reality was that 80%-90% of the customers we engaged with were women.
There seemed to be a logical business case that if I hired a woman with the right experience and competencies, we would be better equipped to understand and serve the needs of our target market (predominantly women in HR).
So in 2009, I hired our first female employee at Autopia – a highly experienced business development executive. Linda.
It is no coincidence that the three year period where Linda worked for us was a period where our business really started to boom. We implemented a sales strategy where both a male and female executive would attend every sales appointment. This strategy delivered two very important outcomes:
- Better customer engagement and,
- Clear differentiation against our competitors.
Better customer engagement
Having a male and a female representative at each customer interaction facilitated a diversity of perspective and communication style. Often our sales cycle is long and involves many people and departments… there is almost always a mix of male and female executives involved in the buying process.
By having male and female representation from Autopia, we were much better equipped to communicate with and develop solutions for the diverse decision makers we were working with.
Strong differentiation against our competitors
After a couple of years in the novated leasing industry, it had become very obvious to me that this is a male-dominated, blokey industry. As Director of Sales at the time, I paid close attention to our competitors and noticed that the business development teams of these companies were all, almost without exception, male; and like us, they were selling primarily to females in HR.
Our strategy of having a male and female executive attending every sales opportunity started to cut through and Autopia stood out as different to the other providers. Not only did we look different, but we were better able to relate to the customers’ needs.
This is just the beginning
Now in 2016, more than six years on since hiring Linda, our business is thriving. We have gone from 0% female representation to 40% female representation.
Our diverse team is better equipped than ever before to win new customers and better serve those customers as has been demonstrated by our sales results and customer satisfaction survey scores over the last three years.
We have better ideas, stronger governance and better performance.
We’ve made great steps forward in our sales and service teams, as well as in our middle management teams, in increasing the representation of women.
But, we have much more to do.
We have a small executive team, the majority of whom helped found the company and have been with Autopia for more than 10 years each… but they are all males.
This is our next area of focus and we’re working on succession strategies with our largely female senior management team to change this in the future.
I’ve seen the competitive advantage that gender diversity brings to management/sales/service teams – it is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. I am keen to leverage that advantage at an executive level sooner rather than later.
Watch this space…