Why Not Women as Dealership Leaders?

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By Ted Ings, Executive Director

It is no secret that women account for only a small part of the retail automotive industry.

Posing the question in its simplest form, why?

Why is there a shortage of women represented in the automotive industry? Another critical issue to consider, which will be addressed in this article is why does it seem that for those women who do work in the auto industry are either in marketing or BDC roles?

The fact is we need more women in management and leadership roles on the dealer level.

We Cannot Keep Saying “Women Are Just Good at BDC.” Instead, We Have to Ask “Why Are Women Not In Management Positions?”

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Over the years when someone has asked “Who Handles your BDC” the common answers were everything from “two women answering the phones," “A department of women handling leads,” and or “a lady answering the incoming calls.”

The recurring theme in the answers was women.

At first glance, it seems exciting, no? That notion that the industry has evolved and that we are welcoming women to work in the auto arena.

However, this does not quite seem to be the case in that while we are seeing women working in the auto industry we still do not see as many women in the sales consultant, sales manager, F&I Manager, or Dealer Principal/General Manager positions. This is a startling reality - why don’t we see more women working in these positions?

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This is not to say that there is one answer to this question. Knowing that there is more than of what meets the eye when trying to approach this topic. Namely, it is essential to focus on how we can attract more women into sales and management roles within the auto industry. That is how and what can we do to work towards a paradigm shift in the way we approach the dealer level positions. No longer is it okay to have tunnel vision when approaching this topic.

Men Created the Issues. How Can We Overcome the Damage and Evolve?

The one perspective that is often excluded from the conversations surrounding the issue of not seeing women in the auto industry is arguably the main reason we do not have women in those positions.

WHO IS CPI?

That is the way men have and in some cases continue to treat women on the dealer level. One of the most disturbing things repeatedly heard over the years was “you better watch out. That is a lawsuit waiting to happen.” A statement so degrading, as it was often said “loudly” in which case it was made to be heard by the person they were talking about.

Yet so little was done to put an end to that behavior, but we wonder why years later we have an issue in the ability to retain women in the auto industry?

This is not to say by any means that all dealers act in this manner. But we cannot ignore the fact that because of this systemic misogynistic behavior that our industry has enacted on has not caused any damage. The damage that has discouraged women from the opportunity to be apart of the industry that just so happens to be heavily influenced by women.

If that is not a wake-up call then perhaps there are worse underlying issues to discuss.

But for the sake of this article, the purpose is to open a dialog that recognizes we have an opportunity to evolve as an industry creating a paradigm shift in the way we approach women working on the dealer level.

Why not as Dealer Principal or a General Manager position?

Even women who were successful on the sales floor seemingly do not last long and often move into other roles within the dealership. With BDC and Marketing seeming to be the most common. Why?

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Here is a conversation to review:

*names have been changed to protect identity*

Question: What made you decide to get into sales?

Answer: I always had a passion for helping people and enjoyed sales. I like that competitiveness it gives you. That rush you get when you put your fifteenth or sixteenth car over the curb.

Question: What made you leave sales to get into BDC?

Answer: I saw an opportunity, and I went for it. But I also grew tired of the way I was treated on the sales floor. I found it disgusting that the sales managers would treat me like an idiot. Often asking me if I needed help to get a car out. Or did I know how to talk numbers? And while they would denounce and degrade the other sales consultants - it was only the bottom performers they humiliated.

I sold 15 to 16 cars a month. So why was I made to be humiliated? One of the last straws I had was with a customer who said to my face “sweetie, do you have a guy I can work with? No offense but I am not letting a woman sell me a car. Do you even know how it works?”

I was shocked. I mean this guy's wife was standing next to him. I wanted to say so many things. But instead, I said “Fine.” I could have said something back at him. But what I most disappointed in was the way my sales manager handled it. I needed one more unit to hit my top bonus for the month. A personal goal of mine. This happened to be the last day of the month. But you know what my manager said to the customer “We can get you a real sales consultant. She does not do many sales. Hey, Taylor go get the truck pulled for this gentlemen. Got it?” That was it for me.

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Response: Taylor. I’m speechless. That is rough. Wow. I am not sure what to say. Not that there is anything I can say to respond to something like that. What I do know, though, is that the behavior you described happens more often then we care to acknowledge. And we can no longer ignore it.

WHAT DOES CPI DO FOR DEALERSHIPS?

Answer: I love the industry. I love everything about it. Once you work on the retail level, it gets in your blood. It gets in your DNA. And yeah, I could have stood up, but for what? Stand there and look him in the eye humiliating myself? No thanks. I decided that it was best to move into a BDC role and let my talent speak for itself. Allowing me to work and build relationships with customers. And I do hope and wish to share my experience with others.

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Question: Would you ever consider a position in management such as a sales manager?

Answer: Yes. Of course. But the way we are viewed and treated on the retail level has to change. I am sick and tired of the perception “if you come across as strong will and determined you are viewed as a power-hungry b****.”

Or if you do not tolerate the degrading behavior on the dealer level, you are “a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

I do not want to be a label. Let alone a label defined on the dealer level which can have a grave impact on my career in the auto industry. Besides, in the BDC - we are the frontline - we speak with the customer first. And for the dealers who have a solid BDC, well they are going places.

Response: I think that for us to change the OEM has to take a hard look at its policies and training materials. In that, when you look into their content is still very male oriented.

They have largely failed to address it and if they do - just as you have said - their means of offering “how women can work in the industry” is not only antiquated its offensive.

What can we do to change this mindset and promote more women in the auto industry?

“Taylor” is not the only one who has experienced the above situation. Several more Taylor situations occur on a daily basis. So what can we do to change the way we approach this issue on the dealer level? The answer is multi-faceted and will take an industry-wide effort to create a meaningful paradigm shift. That is working with the OEM’s to develop a level of accountability in the way we operate the franchises.

It is also your dealership taking a hard look at your policies ensuring that you are holding your dealership accountable.