This year is the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in the United States, so 2020 is an excellent time to celebrate the tremendous strides that women are making in the automotive industry and talk about ways to get even more women involved in the future.
“There are more women and more people of diversity being hired at dealerships today than ever before, but we need more,” NADA Board Member and Cascade Auto Group Managing Partner Michell Primm said at the Women Driving Auto Retail brunch at NADA Show 2020. “Our collective challenge in 2020 is attracting and retaining more women in small business.”
The auto industry’s best and brightest women (and even a few men) packed a sunny banquet room at the Encore to network, share ideas and learn from the leaders that are creating opportunities, driving business and changing the future of automotive.
Gender Bias – Why Should Dealers Care?
One problem, according to Mindy McAlindon of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), is unconscious gender bias in advertising and media. She talked about gender bias in advertising and the SeeHer initiative, a campaign to get rid of unconscious bias in advertising. “The ways that we refer to women in advertising and media sometimes isn’t the way we want to be projected,” McAlindon said. So ANA created SeeHer. To date, 65 respected national marketers representing more than 100 brands, with a combined U.S. ad spend of $60 billion, have joined the initiative.
But why should dealers care about gender bias, McAlindon asked. Because 85% of consumer products are purchased by women yet only 40% of women see themselves reflected in advertising or media. And that can impact a dealership’s bottom line. “As you improve the way you present women in advertising, you improve both purchase intent and brand equity among all consumers,” she said.
Creating a Dealership Culture Inclusive of Women
McAlindon was followed by a panel of dealership leaders who offered their insights and tactics on how to pave the way for more women to join the automotive retail industry.
The panel was moderated by NADA Board Member Annette DiLorenzo Thayer, dealer and owner of Quality Mazda in Albuquerque, N.M., and included Sherry Schultz, chief human resource officer for Walser Automotive Group Chief in Minneapolis, Minn.; Evelyn Chatel, general manager at Bean Auto Group in Miami, Fla.; and Matt Laughridge, owner and managing partner at Terry Reid Auto Group in Cartersville, Ga.
The panel talked about the progress they have made in hiring and retaining women in their respective dealerships. Since Schultz joined Walser in 2018, female employment at the Walser dealerships has increased to 25% across the 2,000-employee workforce, an improvement of 3%. Schultz attributed that in part to the new maternity, paternity and adoption leave policy the company put in place. “We’ve had 59 baby Walsers [since the new policy] and they’re all children to male employees and they were more thrilled than our female employees.” The company has also created resource groups aimed at diversity and inclusion and encourages employees to bring their kids to work—both of which are low-cost options that any dealership can put in place, Schultz said.
Matt Laughridge said his team took a very internal approach to create a company culture that empowers women and makes them feel safe within the dealership. “We saw that our customers were women, they were the ones bringing cars in for service, so why wouldn’t we” make our store attractive and reflective of them, he said.
By taking away some of the rigidness sometimes inherent in automotive retail and being more flexible in terms of pay, schedules and leave policies, Laughridge said the Terry Reid Auto Group is 50% women at the store, 48% of the decision makers and managers are women and every single person in his service department is a woman. Employees are even encouraged to create their own business titles. “That flexibility is what a lot of women are looking for in an employer and a place to be,” Laughridge said.
Learn more about NADA’s Women Driving Auto Retail initiative.