The automotive industry is at a crossroads, but it’s not over personal ownership versus ridesharing or the future of autonomous vehicles. The auto industry is finally turning the corner when it comes to recognizing and supporting women in the industry.
In 2019, AutoNation named Cheryl Miller as CEO and president of the country’s largest auto retailer and a Fortune 500 company. Miller joins a growing roster of women in leadership positions in the industry—Mary Barra was named CEO of General Motors in 2014, and Laura Schwab became president of Aston Martin the Americas in 2015.
New NADA Initiative Puts Women in the Driver’s Seat
Long before Barra, Miller and Schwab, NADA was driving change and supporting women in leadership roles within the auto retail industry: Texas dealer Annette Sykora was the first woman to chair the association in 2008. (In 2018, Louisiana commercial truck dealer Jodie Teuton became chairwoman of the association’s American Truck Dealers division.)
“The whole industry would be well-served by having a greater proportion of women,” says Sykora, a third-generation auto dealer with Smith South Plains Ford/Lincoln, Levelland, Texas. “I’d love to see an increase in the number of women that join the automotive industry as a career. It’s good for the consumers and the workplace in terms of having a diverse and vibrant dealership.”
At this year’s NADA Show in Las Vegas, NADA is showcasing its newest initiative, Women Driving Auto Retail. It will highlight the current voices of women working in dealerships, encourage other women to pursue automotive careers, and provide dealerships with the tools to create a more inclusive work culture and environment.
“Women are a great asset in a dealership,” says Michelle Primm, man-aging partner of Cascade Auto Group, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Primm, a member of NADA’s board of directors since 2008, says Women Driving Auto Retail will help facilitate the conversation that could increase the number of women in auto retail by highlighting all the great benefits a career in the industry offers. “You can have a great career without accruing major college debt, there’s on-the-job training, flexible hours,” Primm says. “Plus you get a career and skill set that travel over distance and time, no matter what life obligations you have to undertake. There are car dealers everywhere that need good people.”
An Increased Presence at NADA Show
One of the most visible events around the Women Driving Auto Retail initiative is this year’s Women Driving Auto Retail Brunch on Sunday, February 16, at NADA Show 2020. More than 300 of the industry’s leading women will gather to share ideas and learn from women who are shaping auto retail and creating opportunities for the next generation. This popular networking event has been part of the NADA Show as a luncheon for the last decade and has now been expanded to a three-hour brunch featuring two sessions with renowned speakers and expert panelists that will be live-streamed to a large digital audience.
With its Women Driving Auto Retail Video Contest, NADA has further amplified the voices of women working in auto retail and helped spread the word why more women should pursue a career in the industry. The contest, now in its third year, encourages women to submit a three-minute video sharing what they do, why they love it, and why retail auto industry is a place where women succeed. The grand-prize winner receives a $1,000 gift card plus complimentary registration to NADA Show 2021 in New Orleans, along with a $1,000 travel stipend. Ten semifinalists each get a $500 gift card.
Accelerating Toward a More Diverse Future
Women Driving Auto Retail is hosting several discussions featuring women in the industry, including daily panel sessions at the NADA Show 2020 Live Stage and a panel at the New York Auto Forum in April. Recently, Women Driving Auto Retail brought together an all-female panel at the Auto Conference LA (ACLA). The ACLA panel—moderated by Ally Chief Marketing Officer Andrea Brimmer and featuring General Motors Global Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl; Valencia Acura Dealer Principal Cheri Fleming; and J.D. Power Managing Director of Data & Analytics Charity Taylor—discussed the ever-evolving automotive digital landscape and how to reach female vehicle buyers.
Women Driving Auto Retail will also produce quarterly webinars and monthly blog posts throughout the year to give dealers the tools and expertise to increase employment diversity—particularly for women. Sample topics include ways to create an inclusive work culture and how to write a job description that will attract a broader pool of potential candidates.
Women Driving Auto Retail has the support of its premier sponsor, Ally. “This initiative’s focus on recruiting, retaining and developing women in the auto retailing aligns perfectly with Ally’s position,” says Kathleen Ruble, executive director of marketing at Ally. “We also want to help educate our industry on the importance of how women are depicted in advertising and how that impacts the way women are perceived and see themselves in media.”
How women are depicted in advertising and marketing is just one of the many Live Stage panel sessions at NADA Show 2020 that will focus on women in the industry. As with the brunch, the panel sessions are live-streamed on NADA’s website.
There is no better time—or organization—to support diversity and inclusion, says ATD Chairwoman Jodi Teuton. “The strength of this organization is in the diversity of our membership. Like America itself, dealerships across the country are a cultural melting pot,” she adds. “NADA can be the force to lead that culture of change and create an environment that says, ‘Everyone is wanted.’”