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Female Actors Should Consider A Career In Sales

Originally published 2 July 2004

It is a generally believed that men make better sales people than women and that the sales arena is regarded as the ‘arena of men’. However, recent research by the Warwick Business School has demonstrated that woman make better gladiators within this arena than previously thought.

Significant numbers of females are entering the sales profession, working as salespeople and account managers as well as first-line managers. The increasing demands for seamless delivery from suppliers by business-to-business customers’ means that sales companies need to reassess their assumptions of what drives sales organisation effectiveness.

Professor Nigel Piercy and Dr Nikala Lane of Warwick Business School and Professor David W. Cravens of Texas Christian University found that gender was not a determining factor of sales performance. However, differences were reported in the way men and women supervised their sales units with those supervised by women being significantly more effective than those supervised by men. When managing their teams women displayed higher levels of ‘behaviour control’ than men and were not solely reliant on commission and bonuses as their only forms of motivation. And, although female sales managers were just as demanding and as critical as their male counterparts they differed in their management style, carrying out more coaching and support activities with their teams than men did. Furthermore, they appeared to be better than men in the way they carried out such activities.

These findings suggest a strong case for increasing the number of women in sales management roles. The potential gains in the quality of sales supervision and salesforce effectiveness would counteract any costs incurred as a result of achieving this target.

The acting profession is unlike the sales profession in that males and females have a long history of working together yet a recent study has shown that woman in this field of work are still fighting disadvantages in the workplace. Dr Deborah Dean of the Warwick Business School found that women working in TV and theatre are disadvantaged with respect to accessibility of work, pay and performance longevity despite 350 years of an unsegregated working environment.

Female actors were found to have more problems than male actors gaining acceptance at drama school through to being taken on by agents and casting directors. However, this is more likely to be due to female performers deselecting themselves because of the perception of their own stereotyping of what certain characters should look like/ be like rather than discrimination in the conventional sense.

Female performers also have fewer job opportunities, resulting in poor market value. This is a problem for women as pay is related to a performer’s market value therefore women, more often than not, receive less pay than men. Furthermore, once a female performer turns 40, acting parts for this age group and older tend to be given to a select group of well-known female performers who are often safer bets for television executives. Women, therefore, need to have built their career by this age so they have a better chance of getting the few roles available for this age group. Whilst men also have to build their careers in the same way as women they have a better chance of getting work as there are more ‘older male’ roles available.

Dr Dean, herself a former professional actor and singer, says: “All actors work in a competitive occupation with an unemployment rate of at least 80% at any one time…women performers and their employers acknowledge there is less work for women and that their parts are written and cast in more closely confined ways.” Dr Dean adds “The research indicates that although acting is thought of as a marginal occupation, studying the labour processes of women performers is a reliable guide to how we think about women in wider society.”

Although women are still encountering inequalities in the workplace they are proving to be more effective in the sales arena than previously thought. Furthermore, the sales industry may benefit as a whole by increasing the number of women employed in sales management. As women appear to be doing so well in sales it seems that Noël Coward was right when he sang ‘Don’t put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington’. It seems that now would be a good time to add the words ‘You should put her into sales instead’.

For further information contact:

Vin Hammersley,
WBS Director of Communications,
tel. ext 24124

Dr Deborah Dean,
WBS Research Fellow,
tel. ext 22736