Industry pundits have long lamented a gender gap in insurance and financial planning. Depending on what you’re measuring, that gap can be modest — or monumental.

Take personal savings. The shortfall in retirement assets, which former Bank of America executive Sallie Krawcheck pegs at $13 trillion, will largely be borne by women in retirement, in part due to their lower earnings and longer life expectancies relative to men.

On the financial protection front, nearly half of women polled in a NerdWallet survey — 49%, as compared to 37% of men — say the death of a spouse would adversely impact their ability to make mortgage payments, save for college tuition and pay bills because their family is uninsured or underinsured.

Many of the same industry-watchers argue these gender gaps could be closed by eliminating another: an underrepresentation of women in insurance and financial services sales positions. They are, on balance, better positioned to establish long-term client relationships and understand the emotions and psychology underpinning the financial needs of women because of their shared experiences.

Judging from the results of a recent survey, closing this last gender gap could take time. Key reason: misperceptions among women about careers in sales.

“Dated stereotypes” about sales careers 

A Guardian Life report, “Closing the gender gap in sales: Identifying barriers and redefining career options,” polled 2,000 millennial and Gen X women to learn how to better attract and serve them as financial advisors. The research examines the career goals of these women at different life stages, and how a career in financial services may resonate with them.

Many of the women polled avoid careers in sales because they view the positions as a “move backwards,” and because of the potentially long hours and unsteady income the jobs may entail. The study also flags some “dated stereotypes” about sales careers among the respondents. Examples:

  • 79% wouldn’t want a commission-based salary.

  • 67% say sales remind them of a “used car salesman.”

  • 64% say they don’t know how much time and energy achieving a successful career in sales would take.

The study also identifies “personal barriers” that keep women from pursuing positions in sales. Nearly 8 in 10 (77%) say they’re not pushy enough to be in sales. And 70% say they’d always be stressed and under pressure in a sales job.

But as the study also notes, three in four women who have a gotten a taste of life in sales are ready and willing to enter the field once more:

  • 78% know they’d be successful.

  • 75% love the idea of being able to control their income.

  • 75% know they have the street smarts to sell.

  • 74% love the idea of providing comfort to others.

  • 74% like the idea of making their own hours; and

  • 61% always had a passion for selling.

For additional highlights from the survey, see the slides beginning on the next page.