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A gender blind system for promotion in the salesforce.


Although the number of female sales representatives is increasing, the typical sales manager is male. As the number of females in the salesforce expands, however, promotion of women into managerial sales roles will become more common. As the percentage of female sales managers grows as a proportion of the total, males will be displaced or replaced. This will lead to a feeling of unfairness and therefore inequity on the part of males.

Prior research indicates that individuals perceive their contribution to and performance in an organization, in part, through an internal evaluation of co-workers (Adams, 1963; Adams and Rosenbaum, 1962). This process is known as equity theory. Equity theory suggests that personal job satisfaction is derived partially as a function of how one compares himself to others in similar situations. Tyagi (1985) proposed that such comparisons may be particularly common in sales organizations. As more women join the salesforce and are promoted to sales management positions, the likelihood for perceived inequity by the male salesforce, heretofore competing only within its own group, grows. The effect that such perceptions may have on sales performance and the possible inequities which may result with male sales managers have yet to be researched. Salesforce changes and the eventual individual and organizational imbalances which result also need to be examined.

Equity theory

Equity theory argues that employees experience satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their compensation or rewards system relative to their input, and relative to the input of other employees. An input is defined as an investment or effort expended by the individual. While a number of equity models have been developed, those proposed by Adams (1963) and Jaques (1961) have created generally the greatest research interest (Milkhovich and Newman, 1990).

The research of Adams and Rosenbaum (1962) and Adams (1963) represented some of the early in-depth investigations of equity and inequity and remain the accepted foundation for most later research. These early researchers argued that equity on the job is more than receiving acceptable compensation, i.e. "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work". Equity is judged on the basis of whether one individual is treated fairly in comparison with other people (Vecchio, 1984). An employee's satisfaction or dissatisfaction is related directly to the amount of effort put into an action and the resulting outcome either by itself or as perceived via-a-vis others and their efforts and rewards. The individual makes a cognitive comparison with a coworker, or some other referent, by evaluating the extent of the referent's efforts and the outcome. From this evaluation, the individual concludes that a state of equity or inequity exists between his input and outcome.

Although the referent selection process is not crystal clear, the chosen referent or set of referents serves as a point of both reference and comparison. The referent may be an individual, group, department, or the organization. The outcome of one's effort may be explicit rewards (e.g. pay and promotion), or implicit or intrinsic rewards (e.g. status). A crucial point is that all perceived conditions are founded on an internal standard which may or may not be reality. Walste et al. (1978) state that the basis for equity is that individuals attempt to maximize their outcomes. The internal comparison could be based on organizational rewards which are not normal outcomes (e.g. sharing information with other employees). Conversely the outcome could be based on more traditional and direct rewards such as compensation.

Equity, or conversely inequity, perceptions have been found to influence the degree of attractiveness of rewards (Tyagi, 1985). The salesperson formulates a perception of the reward's attractiveness and value that may not match the sales manager's intention. Thus the salesperson may associate a different level of importance to rewards than would be expected by the granter of the rewards. This is especially suspected when the recipient believes rewards may be distributed in an inequitable manner (Tyagi 1985). Equity imbalance may be situationally influenced and dependent on individual traits. Because the personal selling environment is unique and often quite dynamic, the situation becomes an important influence on equity perceptions.

The contemporary sales professional

Salespeople face many challenges while working in a variety of roles which impact performance (Behrman et al., 1981). The boundary spanning sales personnel (Churchill et al., 1976) operates at the periphery of an organization, often causing conflicting demands. Sales managers are in positions of high visibility and vulnerability as they direct the efforts of individuals to reach organizational goals. This situation requires the successful sales manager to be sensitive to the challenges of the sales position, the sales environment and, more recently, to gender differences, all without compromising production expectations (Linkemer, 1989).

The complexity of the sales job may cause the sales organizations to be more subject to equity considerations than other types of organizations. The sales manager's performance is often measured quantitatively where the results are known frequently by all participants. This openness creates an environment where comparisons are likely and may often be encouraged. In fact, several studies have found that sales personnel tend to overestimate the compensation of their peers when the pay policies are secret. This situation increases the perception of reward inequity (Futrell and Jenkins, 1978). Tyagi (1985), using a modified Vecchio (1981) format, examined and found that the level of perceived equity in dispensing rewards did influence the amount of importance attached to extrinsic rewards. The value attached to intrinsic rewards, however, did not vary as significantly when distribution equity was not perceived.

Additionally, because sales managers are often geographically isolated from the rest of the organization and other sales managers, a high degree of uncertainty about their status in the organization is common. This uncertainty creates the opportunity for perceiving an inequity between sales managers that may or may not exist.

Although the basis for perceived inequity exists under the best of conditions, when the environment is dynamic, as the sales environment most often is, there is an increased likelihood of perceived inequity. This may negatively impact on the sales organization and magnify problems for sales managers as they strive to improve organizational performance.

The future sales professional

The salesforce should be expected to undergo a number of changes in the future as more women enter the sales profession and progress into sales management positions. In the last decade, there have been significant percentage increases in the numbers of female sales professionals (Muehling and Weeks, 1988). If this trend continues, sales organizations will evolve from male-dominated groups to ones composed more equally of males and females. Additional changes will result as more women are promoted to sales managers.

Current reasons for the slow inclusion of women in sales organizations include no desire to travel, lack of mentors, lack of power or influence (Business Marketing, 1984; Linkemer, 1989), and education and sex stereotyping (Skolnik, 1985). These reasons will have less impact in the future as the demographics of sales organizations change and more women enter the sales force and are promoted to sales managers. Additionally, as women have been shown to perceive personal selling in a more positive light than do men (Muehling and Weeks, 1988), it would seem that future opportunities for the female sales representative and managers will continue to increase. The outcome of this evolution should be increasing opportunity for the female who desires a professional career in sales and sales management. However, this outcome may be viewed in a very different light by male sales personnel and male sales managers.

Despite a number of studies designed to compare male and female perceptions about the sales profession (Dubinsky, 1980; Muchling and Weeks, 1988), current research has not yet investigated gender differences within sales management. As previously noted, this is probably due in part to a disproportionate number of men in sales management positions. The changing make-up of the professional salesforce leads to several propositions based on equity theory and their implications for sales organizations.


Because there are still in the salesforce relatively small numbers of females who are able and/or aspiring to become sales managers, there will likely be an increased emphasis by organizations to retain current female sales managers. These women not only serve as managers but also serve as role models and mentors for other women in the salesforce. Faced with the difficult position of needing to demonstrate equal hiring and promotion methods, executive management will place an increased effort on recruiting and retaining qualified women. Sales organizations will aggressively seek out women for the sales management position. This strategy will help the organization avoid the negative feedback from current female sales representatives. It may also lead to negative feedback and a perception of unfairness on the part of the current male salesforce.

Consequences of perceived inequity

The attention to gender (read as favouritism in some circles) will threaten the status quo in the male salesforce and may thereby increase male sales managers' perception of inequality. Male sales managers will experience an increasing level of dissatisfaction as they develop feelings of inequity. If this condition persists, male sales managers will likely attach less importance to immediate rewards for sales performance, and will expend less effort in their positions. The inverse relationship between perceived inequity and sales performance will be exacerbated. Similarly, an inverse relationship will be noted between perceived inequity and the level of organizational commitment and, as a consequence, increased employee turnover may be expected. A reduced salesforce effectiveness would signal the need to re-evaluate performance and reward systems. However, pre-eruptive steps might help mitigate or eliminate a potentially deteriorating situation.

Managerial implications

The comparisons utilized in equity situations have been found to be extremely important and influence the outcomes of the firm. Russ and McNeilly (1988) point out that female sales managers will become less of a novelty in the future as their numbers increase, but negative consequences of inequity are likely. The supporting evidence seems to suggest that a rise in the number of the female sales managers will create a condition for perceived inequity to develop. To reduce perceived inequity, and thereby increase perceived equity, the following suggestions are given for personnel policy schemes:

* The organization's guiding policy must be fair treatment of all sales representatives and managers.

* Quick-fix schemes such as gender quotas need to be avoided. The first step is a reward plan which is gender-blind.

* High standards of performance should be adhered to, regardless of gender. These standards should be established according to equitable criteria, and be open for inspection.

* A peer review system should be put in place. When both sexes are involved in such a review, gender inequity is diminished.

* Training and development should be made available to all sales representatives, both male and female.

While it is important for both men and women to have opportunities for sales management positions, the demographic changes in the salesforce will create a sensitive situation which must be carefully managed. Organizational executives must manage the "reality" created by sales managers' perception of "reality" and find ways to ensure the sales managers perceive equitable treatment.

Implications for future research

Empirical research studies are suggested for future research. Specifically, gender equity/inequity perceptions should be researched in the evolving salesforce. Particular interest should be directed at performance schemes which might lessen or remove perceptions of inequities in the reward systems of sales organizations. Findings should be analysed and compared with research conducted in other occupational areas undergoing significant demographic changes. Two professions suggested for comparisons are accounting and nursing. The accounting profession provides a fertile environs to study because of the large influx of females into the profession over the last two decades. Nursing, a profession historically dominated by females, provides a mirror image of the changes taking place in the salesforce. It is hypothesized that changing gender make-up in professions tends to bring about a common set of problems. Such research as proposed would possibly bring new knowledge to the field.


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Author:Harmon, Hary A.; Jurkus, Anthony F.; Webster, Robert L.; Hammond, Kevin L.
Publication:Marketing Intelligence & Planning
Date:Jan 1, 1997
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