Traditionally the auto industry has historically been dominated by men, but as the workforce advances to include, value and support more women, the auto retail industry is making an effort to keep up. Not only is this an important cultural evolution for dealers to make, but it’s also a crucial business evolution. Studies show women make a majority of household decisions about what car to buy and when. If those women walk into a dealership and see only men, especially on the dealership floor, it doesn’t mirror their world at large, and could be detrimental to a potential sale.
Though incremental steps toward gender balance have been made, more work is needed to make the auto retail industry a place where women can build a successful career. Small, yearly increases in the number of women working at dealerships have been recorded, but that number dipped slightly in 2017, according to a National Automotive Dealers Association Workforce Study. To add to the disparity, only five percent of dealership general managers and less than one percent of service technicians are women.
The good news is, auto retailers see including women in the workforce as a top business priority. To ensure that female customers feel comfortable and empowered in dealerships, it’s important they see women working at all levels.
While every dealership is different, there are steps dealers can take to make the workplace, culture and job offerings more attractive to women:
Analyze operations and culture
Dealerships need to take an honest look at their own operations and culture. Hireology’s Julie Brinkman suggests asking employees for their insights, either by anonymous surveys or one-on-one private conversations. These findings can help dealership owners see what is working and what issues need to be addressed.
Address the myths of gender bias
It is also important to speak up about the subconscious biases against women in the workplace. Some dealership owners may believe they already have enough women on staff. However, these women are usually not in leadership positions or on the dealership floor. There is also a myth that men are better at sales or with handling money. This narrow thinking is untrue and should be addressed by leadership.
Appeal to a more diverse workforce
The six-day week, working 70 hours on commission, is common at the typical dealership. While this has been the norm for years, employee values are changing. Long hours, working on the weekends and commission-based profits are less appealing to younger employees and especially those with family responsibilities. To address this, dealerships can offer flexible scheduling, including rotating weekends off, and team selling, which can meet employees’ needs while also maintaining dealership profits.
Create competitive employee benefits
With a prolonged labor shortage, dealerships are facing stiff competition for the best talent. To attract quality candidates and retain current employees, dealerships need to offer competitive benefits. This means offering health care plans that include health savings accounts (HSA) as well as investing in employees through benefits such as paid time-off and retirement plans with a 401(k) and matching contributions.
Establish a human resources department
Having a human resources department is vital to creating a more inclusive workplace. A well-defined employee orientation is one of the most important things a company can do to retain that worker, according to research from Hireology. HR departments are also good for business because they can handle staffing issues while also enforcing policies to help mitigate risk.
Promote and market a women-centric dealership
In order to attract, retain and promote women at auto dealerships, they need to feel supported and valued. Having women in the hiring process and providing a mentor for women who are new on the staff can go a long way in making them feel included. The mentor doesn’t need to be another woman, but someone to talk and consult with.
In addition to supporting women internally, promoting an inclusive environment in marketing materials and on social media sends a message to the community and future customers that everyone is welcome at the dealership.
The auto retail industry is becoming more inclusive for women and the new generation of workers. By reassessing goals and priorities within the business, dealerships can implement best practices that will not only attract more women employees, but customers as well.
Marisa Carnevale-Henderson is senior vice president, market executive for dealer financial services at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.