Numerous studies have shown that corporations with diverse leadership and teams perform better. Organizations often adopt the ideologies of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) to maintain relevance in their industries, improve performance, and contribute to their communities. One key challenge in the PreSales profession is the need for more diversity. The 2021 State of Diversity in PreSales Report showed that the profession is 76-85% male and more than 75% white. These numbers do not reflect the global population. The interest in conducting the 2023 report was to better to understand the state of diversity in the profession’s global population and give specific recommendations, skills, and tools for individuals and organizations to progress in DE&I. The intention is to help organizations refine their training and programs to be more effective and to help individuals identify areas of opportunity to grow their skills in DE&I, and therefore advance their careers.
The PreSales profession is a continuous learning profession. Looking at Diversity, Equity, and inclusion as a skill, this report applies a four-stage learning model called the Conscious Competence Learning Model to assess the profession's progress. PreSales appears to be at Stage 2, Conscious Incompetence. This stage reflects the awareness among professionals created by social movements and corporate training, but many professionals still lack the skills to create more inclusive cultures.
The PreSales Collective is leading the way in empowering the professionals in its community to impact pay equality, navigate their careers, and expand their worldview. This study is a guide for employers and employees to help build a more inclusive culture which will attract and retain all PreSales professionals.
The research for the 2023 State of Diversity Report was conducted in two phases. First, a voluntary survey was distributed via LinkedIn and email to over 30,000 members of the PreSales Collective around the globe, and shared by those members with other professionals in their networks. Following the survey, participants were redirected to a separate survey with the opportunity to share an email address for contact regarding an interview. This report includes the findings of both the surveys and the interviews. This study's primary objectives are:
There were 439 participants from 28 countries for the 2023 State of Diversity in PreSales survey. See the figure below for the number of participants from each country.
The 2021 State of Diversity Report collected race and ethnicity from North America. The 2023 State of Diversity survey collected information directly from individuals from around the globe. The international nature of the data collection prevents us from directly comparing the two data sets, but it is a step closer to understanding the true racial and ethnic diversity of our profession. Additionally, the voluntary nature of the survey and the title may have skewed the data collection to a more diverse population.
There was interest in learning more about the relationship between parental status and caregiving support and the propensity to seek a new job or leave the PreSales profession. The survey identified that of the 439 participants, 46% are parents. Of the parents who responded, 86% are primary caregivers of a child under 16. When asked about the support they receive in parenting, the majority (90.3%) of primary caregivers of children under 16 felt strongly or very strongly that they have support in parenting. There was no relationship between parental support and seeking a new job or leaving the PreSales profession. This means that in this survey, lack of support in parenting is not related to job seeking or leaving the PreSales profession.
The two primary objectives of this report are: 1) to make concrete recommendations for individuals and organizations to make changes and 2) to establish a framework by which we could measure the progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in the PreSales profession.
Over the course of three weeks, 37 individuals participated in semi-structured interviews. The purpose of using this technique is to guide the initial topic but also to allow the interview participants to guide the overall discussion, allowing the interviewers to learn from them. The interviews all started with questions on diversity training and programs at the current or recent companies where the PreSales professionals are/were employed. Discussions began here based on previous research that suggests that diversity training can create a backlash in organizations and can be detrimental to organizational diversity1.
[our company] hired a new VP in 2020 with the[increased awareness]of several of the social issues that came about with George Floyd and others. That's what made us stop as a company and go, whoa, we've gotta do something to do this.
The most common theme was that of progress. Participants who have been in the profession for longer shared that the environment has changed dramatically over the last decade. Some of that change is attributed to social movements such as #MeToo2 and #BlackLivesMatter3. While participants didn’t feel that the training programs they experienced were impactful or targeted toward the right people and that diversity programs lacked purpose, they also began guiding us to view DE&I as skills that can be taught and learned. Our participants recognized that cultures, people, and organizations can change or pivot to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. That gives the professionals hope for the future. But viewing this as a skill that can be learned, we wanted to learn where the profession is now
The PreSales profession is a learning profession, where individuals continuously hone new skills; rapidly adapting to changing technology. We chose to ground our assessment of diversity in PreSales in a learning model, specifically, the Conscious Competence Learning Model because it correlates to a core tenant of the profession. This model, attributed initially to Gordon Training International in the early 1970s, has been used for years to describe the stages individuals or organizations go through in learning new skills.
The model has four stages: 1. Unconscious Incompetence, 2. Conscious Incompetence,3. Conscious Competence, and 4. Unconscious Competence. Using the Conscious Competence Ladder, we can apply it to the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion skills in the PreSales profession.
Stage 1 is Unconscious Incompetence: ignorant of any challenge and unaware of a needed skill or set of skills. If the PreSales profession were in Stage 1, it would suggest that the profession is unaware of its lack of DE&I or how to go about understanding DE&I. While there may be a few individuals within the profession with blinders on and corporations that reflect those ignorances, social events throughout the world - such as the movement prompted by the murder of George Floyd in the United States4, the refugee crisis in Europe5, and Australia’s efforts in 2020 to Close the Gap6 have opened the eyes of corporations to help move the profession forward. The State of Diversity in PreSales survey showed that 68.8% of respondents reported that their company offered diversity training, 51.9% of companies had mandatory training, and 16.9% had voluntary training. While training took various forms – from individual, computer-based compliance-type training to day-long seminars and group activities – it is strong evidence that the profession is aware of DE&I and has moved beyond Stage 1.
Several factors indicate that the profession is in Stage 2, Conscious Incompetence. However, diving deeply into Stage 2 is where the real struggle begins. In this stage, individuals are aware of the skill and the need for DE&I but are still unable to apply it appropriately or consistently. Some key areas causing the industry to be stuck in Stage 2 include Training, Token Diversity, Employee Resource Groups, and “Words, Not Actions”
The data show that many companies are trying to train their employees in this area. Whether to reduce the impact of litigation in their organizations or to truly improve the working environment for all, approximately 67% of companies provide diversity training to their employees7. Unfortunately, poorly constructed DE&I training has been shown to hurt a company’s DE&I efforts, decreasing the number of diverse employees1. That is evident in the PreSales profession as well. Well-intentioned, corporate diversity training can create a “just another thing to do” mentality. Participants used this phrase repeatedly, indicating perceived low value from training.
Individuals who were exposed to diversity training in their organizations were less likely to be seeking a new job.
Individual computer-based training and compliance-type training often run employees through simplified scenarios that are difficult to translate into daily interactions, as scenarios are more complex in real life. Nevertheless, the interviewees found that such training did create awareness in some of their colleagues, moving them past Stage 1 but stopping there. Many described it as an excellent first step but equated it to words, not actions, on the part of the corporation.
The PreSales profession is global, and its diversity of employees reflects that. However, multinational corporations often delivered US-focused training rather than regionally adapted training. This resulted in two feelings: resentment that their time was wasted on something that did not directly apply to the non-US employee and an additional sense of being different – the opposite of the intended message.
This company is a global company, multinational national company, and they don't have this vision of other countries. So, it just doesn't work because [we have] totally different cultures."
While companies in Stage 2 might be struggling in some areas of training, interview training was recognized as an area of strength for many companies. Participants frequently reported that they or their managers take training to identify and minimize biases in the hiring process. In general, most organizations had a sense of pride and progress in this area.
Our interview participants suggested that sharing stories in a town hall or smaller team meeting setting is far more effective than training. This is not to suggest that we should discontinue diversity training or compliance training but that companies should frequently add storytelling as part of a cultural movement to promote multifaceted diversity and inclusivity.
Another common finding indicating the profession is in Stage 2 is the purposeful highlight of a single employee meant to represent a diverse or minority group. Individual contributors can see that the one individual showcased to the workplace is not true diversity. When interviewing individuals who felt like the token, they mentioned feeling the pressure to represent an entire group was overwhelming and that they were used as a buffer for genuine change. These individuals felt that they were singled out as a “check-the-box” example of diversity. This resulted in those individuals feeling more isolated rather than included.
It was kind of like all that pressure was on me to then, you know, but I don't represent everybody.
Asking employees if they feel comfortable speaking about their challenges may put inappropriate pressure on them to comply. However, it is only possible to promote diversity by talking about it. One potential solution is to bring individuals from the outside the organization into town hall meetings to discuss their experiences. This may give diverse employees something with which they can identify, and others will learn from the experience. However, external speakers often charge for their expertise. Take this into consideration when seeking speakers. Additionally, this is an opportunity to explore the level of psychological safety in your organization.
In Stage 2, one major problem is that companies talk about DE&I rather than take action to correct the imbalances in the profession. For example, companies in the Conscious Incompetence stage will talk about DE&I, attempt misguided training, showcase a token employee, or form poorly arranged employee resource groups, but they need actions to help.
...we're calling attention to it, but not actually doing anything about it.
Companies in this stage need more DE&I-focused hiring programs. They blame the need for more diversity at the college level rather than looking at the skills listed in the job ads and how they promote applications by the same demographic. Additionally, companies in this stage lack leadership diversity and lack active programs to fix this.
Identifying whether employees feel action is behind the company’s words is incredibly challenging. In this case, we recommend an annual survey to assess employees’ perceptions of the company's activities and to seek recommendations for additional actions and accommodation.
All surveys must be followed up with transparency in the results. Leaders should share the results, seek discussion, create an action plan, and gather input from the team for future surveys.
Companies can also look to external consultancies or other outside resources for support in developing actions that will improve the effectiveness of their DE&I programs.
Many corporations have employee resource or affinity groups (ERGs) to create a sense of inclusion. In studies, ERGs have been shown to develop a sense of belonging8, but only if done well. However, there are a few areas of improvement for ERGs as they exist today.
Several individuals interviewed shared that their ERGs needed greater attendance and felt that attending the ERGs conflicted with their other work priorities. This is especially prevalent in sales/PreSales where the mentality is customer-first, always. When a PreSales professional’s work is in service of the customer, where do they prioritize attending ERG events?
I see it as a sign of progressive thinking. I want to belong to an organization that is progressive and is prepared to be a little bit bold to make that happen.
Secondly, we heard that ERGs need a clear goal or purpose. This may also contribute to low attendance as individuals don’t know what to expect out of the investment of that time.
Finally, employee resource groups are risky when focusing only on one or two major groups. By having one or two well-known ERGs, companies give the impression that they are again “checking the box” on diversity and that more time and attention are unnecessary. This causes individuals identifying with other forms of diversity to feel left out. This double-edged sword of ERGs shows that while they attempt to improve DE&I, they often enhance isolation.
ERGs with funding, visibility, and time resources have been found to help improve inclusion. These ERGs are open to all, inviting members who identify with a particular group and allies to join their circle. They are actively sponsored by leadership members – giving the incentive to ambitious employees that being a part of the group is good for career advancement. Finally, individuals should work with their managers to see ERGs as an opportunity for their development or the development of their team members. Participation may increase the skills of the team for higher performance. This may help overcome the conflict between commission-based compensation and attending ERG events.
The great news is that among PreSales professionals, the presence of an ERG at their organization significantly correlates with retention. In addition, having an ERG at an organization reduces the likelihood of a PreSales professional seeking a new job.
ERGs should broaden their mandate to be more inclusive. For instance, in one smaller company, a women’s group that successfully started a mentoring program opened their opportunities to include anyone who wanted to join, regardless of gender identity, creating a more inclusive program yet still maintaining its original mission to promote success in women employees.
The third stage of the Conscious Competence Ladder is where a few progressive companies fit. These organizations understand the need for DE&I in their organization and have taken practical steps toward creating a sense of belonging. They may not have everything right, but they are making significant strides. A few common themes were found in our interviews of companies that have generated some success in DE&I efforts
Organizations with greater than average diversity have hiring programs to help with that effort. Individuals within the hiring process take bias training and consciously ask themselves if they favor one candidate over another because the candidate is like themselves. Strong hiring programs focus on a diverse candidate pool. To do this, companies with stronger DE&I approaches have re-imagined the requirements and ads posted for PreSales jobs. Thinking outside the box, companies recruit individuals from other fields, remove ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’ from the primary job listings, and extend the venues where jobs are posted.
The efforts could be better. One individual mentioned that the requirements of a diverse applicant pool took so long to achieve that many qualified applicants dropped out during the interview stage because they had already found other employment. However, many individuals reported significant progress at the individual contributor ranks within their corporation because of strong DE&I hiring efforts.
I think the emphasis on technical ability over soft skills in hiring is one thing that leads Sales Engineering to be less diverse.
A theme that came up repeatedly, not specifically DE&I related, was that PreSales as a career is not on the public’s radar. This career line is unknown to college students. As a result, individuals believe that the entire applicant pool is much smaller than it could be if a PreSales career were more generally known and understood.
Companies can implement inclusive hiring practices such as mandatory diverse interview panels, unconscious bias interview training, and applications that remove bias from resumes and job postings. These techniques are proven to be effective when implemented consistently. To spread awareness of the PreSales profession the PreSales Collective could create a working group for networking with college students. Additionally, we could develop partnerships with organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers.
While diversity efforts for individual contributors and managers of the PreSales business have been successful at several companies whose employees we interviewed, there were almost universal comments that diversity was missing from the executive ranks. Some individuals attributed it to historical hiring in the lower levels, suggesting that time will take care of the problem as the newer diversity in entry-level jobs will eventually trickle up. But others expressed serious doubts about several systematic blockers that inhibit opportunities for promotion.
Our group VP has actively championed the course of female leadership. So he's been doing mentoring sessions with women and supporting their journey into leadership.
The companies that have made more progress towards a diverse leadership team had more robust mentoring paths for diverse lower-ranking employees. In these cases, upper-level leaders (predominantly straight, white, cis-gendered males) actively sought opportunities to mentor individuals of different backgrounds. This mentorship helps with retention and belonging. In our survey, those with mentors were less likely to seek a new job. They also felt a stronger sense of belonging and fit with the organization.
Implementing a mentoring program is inexpensive and positively impacts job satisfaction, engagement, and performance. While low in hard costs, it does require effort to establish these programs. Even if it's challenging to implement a complete mentoring program, managers can seek mentors for their direct reports, and individuals can request help finding a mentor in the company. Additionally, managers and leaders can invest time in understanding the difference between mentorship and sponsorship. As mentorships develop, leaders can use their positions to sponsor others into new roles. While laying out clear guidelines for career promotion may be difficult, especially in small organizations, we recommend that managers have this conversation with their direct reports. Individuals seeking this information from their managers often need help getting clear feedback on the areas where they need improvement. This is where an internal or external mentor may be helpful.
For any individual, we recommend identifying a “sparring partner.” This is a person with similar career interests who cares about your success and whose success you care about. Together, you work to identify areas of improvement in each other. Additionally, you can support and sponsor each other in a work setting.
The final rung on the Conscious Competence Ladder is Unconscious Competence. This is when a skill appears to come naturally to a person. A company is diverse, equitable, and inclusive as a default, without any special effort. This utopian ideal suggests that DE&I is deeply ingrained into a company's culture and cannot be separated from its core business.
And so we're very adamant and deliberate about making sure that we maintain that culture, and part of that culture is that open-mindedness we talked about.
The goal of unconscious competence may never be possible with DE&I. As we become more aware of differences, we also recognize more diverse categories. No two people are genuinely the same. However, companies that create a culture where a person can be truly themselves and still have a sense of belonging will have reached this final stage. This is part of a company’s culture. DE&I is not a check box or one more business strategy for success; it is inherent to the day-to-day life of every individual at all levels of a corporation.
Many PreSales organizations need a strong onboarding program to ease an individual's transition into the organization and help them become familiar with the culture, processes, and technology. Elements of a strong onboarding program include evaluating incoming members to tailor learning to the individual’s needs. In addition, that program should connect to an ongoing training program that continuously enables individuals and their careers.
Maintaining a curriculum for an onboarding program in an ever-changing technology environment can be very challenging. Additionally, with new hires entering at various stages of their careers, a starting point for that onboarding program can be difficult to navigate. However, our regression analysis shows that a strong onboarding program correlates with a sense of belonging and fit. The survey also indicates that belonging and fit are directly related to retention. Given this, companies wishing to achieve Stage 4 should consider onboarding programs critical to developing a robust and inclusive culture.
A strong onboarding program leads to a greater sense of belonging and fit. Those are strongly correlated to employee retention.
A core objective of the research conducted by the PreSales Collective for the 2023 State of Diversity report was to identify specific actions the PreSales Collective could take to impact the profession over the next several years. The interviews conducted as part of this study uncovered specific areas where the PreSales Collective could take action immediately to impact the community and profession.
Several interview participants, of varying genders and ethnicities, raised concerns regarding pay inequity. Globally, many countries have enacted laws to drive pay equity, including Canada, Sweden, France, Germany, Iceland, Peru, Australia, and the United Kingdom9. In the United States, compensation discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, marital status, political affiliation, or disability is illegal based on numerous laws enacted from 1964 through 1973. However, pay equity continues to be a challenge in many US companies, with women only gaining two cents on the dollar over the last two decades, moving from 80% to 82% of the pay of their male counterparts10. In addition, through the lens of intersectionality, black women earn 58%, and Hispanic or Latina women make 54% of their white male counterparts11. To address this issue, many states have enacted pay transparency laws. These laws are designed to promote awareness and negotiation between employers and employees
To make progress in this area, one interviewee suggested that the PreSales Collective teach negotiation skills to women and racial or ethnic minorities. As part of the PreSales Collective’s 2023 Diversity Summit, the organization hosted a session on negotiating pay. Negotiation is an essential skill that all employees or prospective employees should practice. This session shared strategies and tactics for all individuals in negotiating pay and promotions in the workplace. Emphasis was be placed on overcoming the fear of rejection or fear of ego in the negotiation12 process.
While many participants expressed appreciation for their companies' work in sourcing diverse talent in the interview process, creating diverse interview panels, and conducting training for hiring managers, they also shared concerns over career navigation and promotion velocity in their organizations.
As with the findings that the executive ranks in PreSales lack diversity, our gender and ethnically-diverse interviewees shared that they felt passed over for promotion or faced more challenges in moving up the leadership ladder. Many thought the internal promotion process needed a different programmatic approach to diversity, similar to hiring from the outside. As a result, the PreSales Collective included a workshop on career navigation at the 2023 PreSales Collective Diversity Summit. This workshop included political skill development, such as authentic networking and making your career objectives known to others
This study identified valuable information to help the PreSales Collective in its mission to build a more diverse and inclusive profession. It also found significant areas for our improvement in researching diversity in this area.
First, the survey topic and the intentional nature of collecting information on diversity unintentionally created a perception among the majority of members of the PreSales Collective that their responses were not required. This may have skewed the demographic results. For example, the findings of a relationship between ethnicity, belonging, and propensity to look for a new job would be more substantial.
The attempts to collect racial and ethnic demographics of the population were primarily grounded in US-based perceptions of the topic. Future studies will first present the question regarding country of residence, then follow with others that represent the ideals of racial and ethnic diversity in that country (where applicable). This will allow for a better understanding of the nuances of DE&I among the globally diverse PreSales population. Despite efforts to ensure inclusion through pre-survey question reviews, the team still missed the mark on intersectionality. A key highlight from feedback in the survey and the interviews is that the work in this area (and the study) neglects the multi-faceted nature of diversity. Company DE&I programs and the survey force individuals to choose a very narrow identity when identities are incredibly complicated. Additionally, the questions could have drawn out all the unique ways the PreSales population is diverse. The survey neglected to seek experiences based on gender identity or sexual orientation, age, education, socio-economic background, neurodiversity, disability, veteran status, or religious diversity. And that, too, is a finite list. There is a tremendous opportunity to learn more about the unique individuals that make up the PreSales profession.
While the survey results and interviews show evidence of awareness, this report has a caveat. The 2021 report, based on Linked In profiles, suggested that PreSales was a predominately white and male profession. This is consistent with the opinions heard in the interviews. However, the individuals in the PreSales Collective that chose to respond to the survey and agreed to be interviewed were much more diverse than the data from last year shows. This may be evidence of awareness among diverse individuals in the PreSales profession. The individuals who responded to the survey and agreed to be interviewed overwhelmingly identified as some form of a minority in the profession. Those who did not respond to the call may lean toward the majority and be unaware of their role's importance in DE&I.
Reviewing the literature on communities that have transformed their perceptions around gender or race, some research has been done on feeling shame or guilt when one changes their worldview13. These articles also conclude that while an individual may feel shame or guilt, neither is a productive state or action. The authors of this study have all faced their shortcomings when it comes to understanding diversity. Digging more deeply into a topic may reveal areas where you’ve previously been ignorant or treated others improperly. This may cause feelings of pain, remorse, guilt, or shame. These are feelings the authors have all experienced as well. Next year's study should explore this topic more deeply to understand how we can engage the majority of the PreSales Collective, understand their unique strengths and challenges, and work together to build a profession where every member feels included.
This entire project, from conception to execution, was a labor of love, hope, and belief that we can better our beloved profession by growing together. We are grateful for every individual who gave their time to fill out the survey, provide feedback, attend our Summit, and offer insights throughout our project.
The PreSales Collective would like to thank Dr. Cindy Goodwin-Sak, Dr. Jaime Peters, and Dr. Bill Butler of Breyta Partners for their tireless work and leadership making this report come alive. A special thank you to our team of peer reviewers, Karsten Chearis, Jasmine Omorogbe, Kathleen Kuczma, and Curt Rask who took the time to give insights and share thoughts on our draft report to make sure we were staying aware of trends, changes in the profession, and personal experiences throughout.