Lack of Representation
It may not come as a shock that so few women are represented in the automotive industry. For some, 5–6 percent may even sound high. There may even be some out there asking why it matters and pointing out that there are many female-dominated industries.
Well, here’s a few reasons:
The Anita Borg Institute found that Fortune 500 companies with at least three female directors increased return on invested capital by 66 percent, return on sales by 42 percent and returns on equity by 53 percent.
Gallup has found that more diverse companies have 22 percent lower turnover rates. Less staff turnover creates a stronger company, which aids company growth immensely.
McKinsey consultants found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to produce better returns than their local peers. Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were even more likely to do better.
Different perspectives in businesses matter, and males and females have different approaches to how things are done, each with its own set of strengths.
For example, as a customer, Kathy Gilbert says that women tend to look for safety and men lean toward performance. The way a man may pitch a repair could turn a women off, as a result. Women also tend to be more empathetic, a trait that service departments can really benefit from, Gilbert explains.
This becomes especially important when you consider the buying power that women have. Eight-five percent of purchasing decisions are influenced by women, says Gilbert, director of sales and business development at CDK Global and founding board member of the Women in Automotive Conference.
With such influence, dealerships cannot afford to ignore women as customers and part of that is making sure that when they come in, they feel welcome. One way to do this is by hiring more women that can relate to them and put them at ease.
Another reason to reach out to more females is the lack of qualified technicians entering the workforce—which will be addressed further in a later section. The industry cannot afford to turn any talent away and should be reaching out to anyone that is qualified. Here’s what the landscape looks like now, and a look at what can be done to attract more diversity to the industry.
Evaluate the Progress.
According to the 2017 Women Automotive Leaders Survey from CDK Market Research, more women are being hired into intermediate and executive levels in the last two years than ever before. GM recently became the first OEM to have a woman in both the CEO and CFO roles when it named Dhivya Suryadevara as its CFO.
Anecdotally, Gilbert says she’s noticed a change since she started working with CDK 24 years ago.
“In my early days, there were times when I was meeting with dealers and there were very few women and very few of color,” says Gilbert, also the director of sales and business development at CDK Global. “I’ve seen changes and I’m excited. Although there is awareness, there is still more to do.”
And while the trend is encouraging, there’s no way two ways about it: The industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by men. But Gilbert is optimistic and thinks it’s possible that the industry may even out eventually.
Encourage Male Advocates.
One way to bring more women into the industry, ironically, is by having more men join organizations like Women in Automotive.
“We need men that understand the value [of having women in the industry],” Gilbert says. “Men that have daughters and wives and sisters, co workers, subordinates and managers [that are women]. Men play a significant role in advancing the role that women have. They are in a position to help us influence more men.”
In fact, close to 55 percent of men felt it was “extremely” or “moderately” important for dealerships to promote women in the industry, according to that study.
One of those men is Dan Flynn, president of CDK North America. Flynn joined Women in Automotive this year and has helped bring awareness by delivering the keynote speech at the conference about powerful female role models that he’s had in his life.
“At the time, they were looking to bring some males on to the advisory board so they could have a 360 degree perspective—I was happy to do it,” he says.
Both Flynn and Gilbert believe in the value of diversifying the workplace and the benefits that it can bring. Not only will it bring in new perspectives, it’s also a way to fill in the shortage of qualified technicians.
Fear is a major obstacle for women getting involved in the industry, Gilbert says.
“I think one of the biggest obstacles is ourselves,” Gilbert says on the lack of women involved in the industry. “I think we often choose to sit down instead of stand up. The minute you make the decision to push forward, it makes you stronger.”
The lack of representation is a problem, and it’s holding many women back. One goal of Women in Automotive is to bring women together to see that they are not alone and hear other success stories.
At the most recent Women in Automotive Conference, Gilbert was approached by the winner of the Cox Automotive Breakthrough Leader of the Year award, Nicole Cockcroft of Headquarter Mazda in Clermont, Fla.
Gilbert says Cockcroft thanked her for encouraging her to pursue leadership and giving her confidence. Cockroft explained that two years ago, she was hesitant to get involved in fixed ops, but becoming more heavily involved in the industry gave her the confidence that she needed.
“Taking a chance and having the courage is something that I’m seeing more and more,” Gilbert says.
Draw Attention to the Field.
With the shortage of qualified talent, the industry is in no position to turn away talent and it should promote fixed operations as a viable career option to all interested parties—women included. Only 16 percent of dealers reported actively recruiting women in the 2017 Women Automotive Leaders Study, and women represented only 7.8 percent of all active employees in the nine non-admin positions, compared to 8 percent in 2014.
“I think changing the culture within the dealership is a key piece,” Flynn says. “The largest hurdle is to get people to come into the industry. We have to make it so it’s attractive where people want to come into the industry, period.”
Getting women in the door is key, according to Flynn. Once they are brought in, they need a clear career path. Flynn says that women are an important part of the success of the industry, not just with their buying power, but also the potential that they have in the workforce.
“We miss out without representation,” Flynn says.