Closing the gender gap has been a priority for big business for decades, yet despite their efforts a lack of women in leadership persists.

And across most sectors, there are fewer women in sales positions, as well.

This is a missed opportunity, because women can make excellent sales representatives. They often are empathetic, good communicators and good listeners, and many have an easy ability to build trust and are deeply intuitive — enabling them to read and best serve their customers’ needs.

Yet despite this, according to a new study conducted by Guardian Life, women are essentially “selling themselves short.”’ Just 60 percent say they have never even considered a career in sales.

I spoke to Emily Viner, Guardian Life’s vice president of agency growth and development. She’s responsible for the growth, development, and retention of Guardian’s salesforce, including a focus on expanding the diversity of firms around the country. Viner led Guardian to create a strategic plan to help women realize the opportunities a career in sales has to offer.

“Like many companies, Guardian is committed to recruiting, training, and developing a diverse work force and while we have many successful women within our ranks, they still represent a minority,” she said. Her team led the research on women in sales across many industries, not just financial services.

“Looking at a sales career should be an attractive option for women,” she said. “I started in sales and can attest to the satisfaction it provides in helping people, having flexibility in your schedule, and the opportunity to learn and grow while making a good living. So why is it that we still struggle to recruit women more broadly?

“Through our study, we found the issue was far bigger than that we experience in financial services. We quickly realized our findings uncovered the need for a much larger conversation about women’s views and interests and how they relate to sales careers.

“We now have a roadmap showing how to best highlight career benefits to women and address concerns they may have. Ultimately, we have a clearer picture of how to position this career as a satisfying and successful venture for those who may be interested in a new opportunity.”

Viner is adamant that women are not only needed in sales, but they have so much to offer with their intrinsic skills.

Here she shares Guardian’s top tips to encourage women to choose a career in sales:

1. Advocate for women

To recruit more women in sales, we need to work to change women’s perception of what a career in sales has to offer and also the public’s perception of the industry. The great news is that businesses themselves have a direct impact on women in the workforce.

From the results of the study, Guardian is moving towards advocating the opportunity to recruit more women into a career in sales across all industries, not just in financial services.

We’re also focused on changing public perception. Based on our research, we are now developing outreach campaigns and easily accessible online content, to better describe the role of a financial representative and future career opportunities.

2. Increase recruitment and training

It’s important to create a strategic plan to recruit women and further their training opportunities. We have set key goals, planned to shape our culture to be more inclusive, and created resources to help women further their careers in sales.

We are focused on assisting our firms in fostering inclusive environments where both men and women can thrive. One component of this work is our relationship with The Gender Intelligence Group who are helping us conduct workshops to educate members in The Guardian Network on the brain-based differences between men and women.

We are providing access to women in our sales teams to the resources they need. This includes our own learning and development resources and industry tools. We also have a number of women who are leveraging our relationship with Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS) to utilize their national mentoring program.

Finally, we continue to expand our annual Women Producers’ Summit, which provides Guardian’s women representatives with an opportunity to network, connect and learn from one another. We saw a 21 percent increase in the number of women who attended this conference in 2015 compared to 2014.

3. Develop leadership from the inside

Working with our field leadership, we have identified and reached out to women within The Guardian Network who might consider a career in sales management. Our efforts have resulted in a 71 percent increase in the number of women in sales leadership positions within The Guardian Network over the past two years.

“While we know change won’t happen overnight, we now have a clearer picture on how to bring on the seismic shifts that are long past due,” Viner said.

“I personally believe it’s our responsibility to our industry – as in all sales related business – to help women find their passion to succeed,” she said.