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The Double Standard for Women in Leadership

Posted March 27, 2024
Debe Rapson, Fractional CRO & Co-Founder of Women in Revenue, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Debe shares some tips to make hiring women easier for small companies and how coaching tends to differ between male and female leaders.

Debe Rapson, Fractional CRO & Co-Founder of Women in Revenue, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Debe shares some tips to make hiring women easier for small companies and how coaching tends to differ between male and female leaders.

I’m excited to talk to you about this topic, given your background with the Women in Revenue. Additionally, I am excited to talk about the double standard in leadership. Does it exist?

“It is real. I am also the co-founder of Women in Revenue. It is an organIzation that’s focused on supporting, educating, and helping badass women grow in their careers. We are five years old and we have 7,000+ members globally in sixty-four countries and we’re growing all the time. For anyone interested in joining the website is www.womeninrevenue.org It is a free membership organization that offers mentorship and many other types of networking and services. Feel free to join.

“It’s absolutely a double standard. Those seven thousand women share the sentiment. I think that just being a woman in revenue, forget about the leadership piece for a minute. Most of the women who are sellers or customer success or even marketing are often on very male-dominated teams, specifically on the sales side of the house. I think that percentages are growing, and getting better, but typically they’re a pretty small percentage of the team and there’s absolutely a double standard. They are being paid less and there are all sorts of challenges that women struggle with just being equal professionally.”

What frustrates me is that a lot of the diversity plans for startups are focused on recruiting more women. We are 50% of the population. How did we get here? How did it get so desperate? I also think of the different coaching techniques I see between coaching men and women leaders. What have you observed?

“I think the first thing with recruiting is about someone’s network and who they are reaching out to and where they are looking. There are many women in revenue generation roles and it’s thinking outside of your own personal box, and looking to create a balanced team with diversity. Then it becomes a richer experience for each member of the team. It is really true. Having all those different opinions and backgrounds everyone brings richness to the table for everybody’s experience. It also brings an opportunity for people to learn from each other. The women are out there and it is an effort to go out and make that happen. I think the more women that we bring into leadership, the more women that come on to revenue teams. People hire people who are somewhat similar to them. I know for myself, I’ve always focused on having a balanced diverse team in a lot of many different areas.”

I am glad that you brought up recruiting. It’s an easy way out for many people to hire from within their network because we know the people on our teams are working well and there’s more risk to hiring people you don’t know. However, if they have a good reputation, good references, is it really that much of a risk?

“That is the question. I don’t think that it is. I think it is better to bring in new talent that is diverse than bringing in the people who you know. You always want to bring in and work with people that you have immediate trust with. Yet, there are advantages to going the other way. It is really not that hard. Most leaders, if they’ve had any leadership training, are trained to spot talent, hire and fire. These are two important skills that leaders need to bring to the table.

“Then, of course, the third, and this was a topic that you mentioned, coaching and spending time investing in people to help them achieve the best versions of themselves and help them achieve their personal goals. With a leader taking that kind of approach to understanding what motivates someone and where there are opportunities for improvements, we all have them, every one of us, then, coaching toward them is that winning formula for success. It’s very easy to do that whether somebody is male or female”

Before we go there, I do have to voice a pet peeve that I see in people. I have heard that a lot of small companies use the – they’re not a good culture fit crutch. I would like to challenge that if we could and ask, are you uncomfortable because they communicate differently? They are not from your background. Are you having a hard time connecting on a personal level or is it because of their skill sets and track record? Food for thought.

“Definitely! I once worked with someone who said we shouldn’t be trying to make people fit into our culture. We should be hiring people who can bring culture to the company.”

Yes! I love that. It’s such a simple, little mental exercise to do. It is not like all the flips and backflips you need to do for some things. That is such a great way to position it. So the coaching piece, I love this. I have a ton of pet peeves here too. What are some of the behaviors you have seen or differences you’ve seen in men coaching women vs. men coaching men in some circumstances? And how can we challenge and reposition that a little bit?

“A great example is people being uncomfortable with women speaking directly to others. That is one of the biggest things that strikes me as a coachable moment is when I see many men coaching women to be softer. Don’t be so direct. People are saying that you’re bitchy. I hear a lot of that sort of behavior.”

That is one of my least favorite words. 

“Yes, and it is women who are speaking directly, just speaking their mind. When men do that, the other men typically don’t ever take exception. It is a pretty rare thing that I have seen in the workplace where they’re being coached at that moment. It is usually women. You are being too bossy and it is ridiculous, but that right there is a double standard that I see a lot. Typically, you don’t have women coaching other women on that topic.”

I’ve seen some pretty toxic behavior between women who respond negatively to direct speech and I am thinking about two individuals. It wasn’t aggressive. I took it as a statement and other people took offense to it. Nevertheless, I remember myself early in my career doing the same thing, reacting and I had to catch myself. I think if we are not mindful of our own reactions and wondering where those are coming from, It’s hard to catch it when it is happening.

“It really is. I think that lends itself to people who are more experienced vs. less experienced. I think what it leads to is the discussion around the way people are coddling employers and not speaking directly and speaking kind of around the topic.  That is sort of the new era of management that is showing up these days instead of being able to have a direct professional conversation, with the obvious kindness behind it. That’s important. That intention of kindness and wanting to help, obviously. There’s a tone there, but there is also this overcompensation that has been occurring in the workplace of being so careful to say it like it is.”

Yes. I haven’t been very careful now that I’m kind about it though. I think it’s important to know your own values and what you are looking for and communicate it clearly or people are going to be confused and disappointed. I see that happen a lot where expectations are misaligned since we are dancing around rather than saying, I really value somebody who aligns their priorities with mine. It is okay not to know things, but please tell me right away. If you’re stuck and we can get you some help instead of working on something else.

“Definitely! That shows up in a variety of different ways. That is the sort of new style of leadership. I also value people who speak directly even if it is something I disagree with. I am completely okay with that and want the openness to talk about it. This is what I see and why I see it this way. And then, finding a way to align whether it’s aligning to their opinion or mine or somewhere in between. However, I appreciate that direct, honest collaborative kind of communication.

“That is my personal approach, I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman necessarily, but that’s my personal approach to working with my teams and being authentically me. I think it is great when people bring their personalities to the table. Again, I like diversity of opinion. It is great when there is an equal number of, for example, men and women around the table and the conversation is lively. I’m right now working with a company that is woman-owned and it’s predominantly women who are employees of the organization. I feel like I am in an alternative world in a good way. It is interesting to have a couple of men who I work with who are the minority at the company. It is fun.”

I am thinking of specific scenarios where people got uncomfortable and I got the opportunity to say, yeah, it’s tough, isn’t it? I shouldn’t admit it, but I do take some joy in observing these situations.

“Totally! I get that. One of the ways is when I talk on the topic and I speak a fair amount on this topic, but when I speak on topic to male colleagues and clients and they talk about their struggles, for instance,  hiring women. I always recommend not only looking outside of your network as we talked about earlier. But I also suggest looking at places like Women in Revenue. We have a Slack channel for example for job opportunities. Men can not only join Women in Revenue as allies, but they can recruit from the community as well. People appreciate that.

“I think, again, it’s about networking. That was the birth child behind that organization. It was around helping women standing on our shoulders, helping with coaching, mentorship, and networking with other women.”

“I cannot tell you the countless stories about women who have advanced their careers through mentorship, and have made more money since they had a mentorship conversation with a woman. They were able to negotiate 20k, 30k more in their contract. We’ve so many stories like that. That is one of the cool things. And, it’s not only networking for job opportunities, but also how to stand up on the soft skills side, how to stand up for yourself and negotiate for yourself. I see behind the scenes so many companies, having been in leadership for so long, the percentage of men and women making the same amount of money. It’s startling.”


For more content on B2B marketing trends, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.