RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Cynthia Barnes, the Founder and CEO of the National Association of Women Sales Professionals (NAWSP), a professional organization providing education, mentorship, and networking opportunities for over 15,000 members, has found a new home for herself and the organization. And she says the move is paying off.
Barnes founded NAWSP in 2016 after more than 20 years working in sales at companies like IBM and Microsoft. Last year, Barnes relocated the NAWSP headquarters from San Francisco to Raleigh.
“Since moving to the Triangle, we are up 78% in revenue,” said Barnes. “We are up in membership, revenue, partnerships, sponsorships—everything is up, across the board.”
Larry Long Jr., a sales trainer who’s been in the Triangle for almost 20 years, told me that having Barnes and NAWSP in our area is a “win for the region.”
“Cynthia’s message to tech sales organizations, leaders, and professionals is exactly what needs to be heard by so many,” said Long. “It’s not only relevant but also timely given the current environment within the industry.”
Barnes is also a keynote speaker. She recently delivered the keynote at OutBound 2022 in Atlanta, the largest sales conference in the US—becoming the first-ever Black woman to keynote that conference.
Long also currently serves as Vice President of Programs for NSA Carolinas, the local chapter of the National Speakers Association. He said that Barnes joining this region had an “electric” effect on other speakers in the area.
“The impact of having a powerhouse speaker like Cynthia Barnes, who delivers a dynamic, impactful and truly memorable message, can’t adequately be summarized in words,” said Long. “I’ve been honored for the opportunity to learn from her experiences and to receive guidance to assist me in my speaker business and journey.”
WRAL TechWire caught up with Cynthia to ask her about her work, how she’s adjusting to the Triangle, and what she has planned for 2023.
- As the head of an organization that supports women in sales, what is a common thread you see in how organizations approach gender diversity in their sales teams?
Barnes: I’m always trying to say—Well, you want more women in your organizations, but yet all of your advertising, your marketing, and your job descriptions, screams ‘bro culture.’ So if you want to create an environment that is welcoming, that is inclusive, that screams belonging, then you’ve got to have women in those leadership positions. Show that, ‘Yes, we are walking our talk.’ Otherwise, it falls on deaf ears, and it comes across as disingenuous.
What I’m finding in the tech world when I work with CEOs is they want the representation, they want women to come to their teams—but they need to know how.
- What is missing, do you think?
Barnes: They don’t have a solid ‘why.’ Because when you ask them why, they say things like, ‘Well, it’s the right thing to do.’ Well, before George Floyd, was it the right thing to do? Yes. But now, after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the climate, it’s now a priority.
So we have to get back to those leaders and ask them their ‘why’ and, hopefully, they have a compelling why. Otherwise, it’s just lip service. And that’s the hard part.
It’s so apparent when people are trying to check boxes, and at my last corporate job, I said, ‘So what are we doing to level the playing field for those who don’t look like the majority?’ And they say, ‘Well, Cynthia, you are our diversity hire. You checked two boxes.’ The fact that they said it, I thought, ‘Wow.’ It’s blatant, right? In the majority of tech industries, it’s blatant, and it’s unfair, and we strive to change it. There’s hope.
- How do you feel about the climate here in the Triangle? Do you feel like the tech companies, the startups, the organizations here understand this message? How are we doing here?
Barnes: There’s so much work to do. But of all the places that I’ve lived, I’ve never had a community that wants to put forth the effort and the intention to get it right. That is so encouraging to me because I see leaders saying, ‘You know what, we’re missing the mark here. Cynthia, tell us what we can do to make it right, to level this playing field because we are intentional about making change.’ It’s so refreshing.
I’ve met more women, and more male allies, who want to support the women-in-sales initiative than anyplace else. I can’t throw a stone without hitting someone, figuratively, who is not willing to bend over backward to say, ‘How can I help you? Who can I introduce you to?’ It’s like they’re opening the proverbial Rolodex, like, ‘Who do you need?’ It’s amazing. It’s absolutely amazing.
- You had a lot of growth and headlines in 2022. What’s next—what’s coming up for you?
Barnes: “On a personal level, I’m speaking for Cannon, Rakuten, United Emirates, so over in Africa, I’ll be doing that on December 15… so plenty of keynote speeches.
Being the top Black female sales speaker comes with a lot of rewards and also a lot of responsibility. And I take that seriously. Because I want people to say, ‘You know what, because of Cynthia, I can do it.’
Learn more about Cynthia Barnes and the National Association of Women Sales Professionals at nawsp.org