It’s widely known in the industry that just 19 percent of employees at car dealerships are women, with most of them in lower-earning support positions, according to NADA numbers from last year. Of those who are in sales, 90 percent leave within 12 months.
It’s not uncommon to find imbalances between women and men in different careers; for example, 93 percent of dental assistants are women, as are 60 percent of pharmacists, and 36 percent of lawyers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
What this article addresses is, why aren’t more women working and staying in car sales when it can be a very lucrative career? And what effect might this be having on dealerships?
Women Are Good at Selling
Studies show that women might have an advantage over men when it comes to sales. This makes selling a product with a high price tag, like cars, a lucrative career choice for them, and makes them a good prospect for dealers.
Earlier this year, Forbes magazine reported on a study that showed women “are 5 percent more likely to close a deal than men.” It also included a study where 989 students who attended the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business Sales Excellence Institute had their sales performance tracked for seven years. The results showed that there were 62.5 percent more female than male top performers. And the female top performers outperformed the male top performers by 73.9 percent.
Last year when Hubspot analyzed 30,469 segmented sales calls made by reps with similar conditions met (e.g., same industry, similar tenure, similar deal sizes, etc.), they found that women were 11 percent better at closing sales.
Is Gender Discrimination to Blame?
The recent focus on gender discrimination in the workplace is opening the door to long-overdue conversations about it in every industry.
One way that automotive addressed the issue happened at this year’s Geneva Motor Show, one of the biggest, swankiest auto shows in the world. Fortune magazine reported that not all, but many carmakers stopped using “booth babes” – women wearing skimpy dresses – and replaced them with product specialists, using knowledge instead of sex appeal to help sell cars. These steps help shift the perception of how women are seen in the industry.
NADA also reported last year that more than half of women working at dealerships (57 percent) say that they have had to endure “boorish, sexist banter.”
Bobbie Herron, CEO of The Bees Knees Agency, says that one way to address discrimination and ensure that women entering the industry have a good experience is to connect them with mentors.
“Discrimination is a reality, but in my experience women stop themselves, based on stereotypes and what they expect could happen, more than anything else,” she says. “This is why mentoring is so important – women newer to the industry can get good advice and support from those of us who have already been there.”
Hiring two women, instead of one, is a simple solution for dealerships that want to take advantage of the benefits of having more women on staff, says Craig Lockerd, CEO of AutoMax Recruiting and Training. That way, the new hires will feel less like “odd person out” and be able to support each other and help each other grow.
Lisa Copeland, CEO of Cars Her Way, was Managing Partner/General Manager of Fiat Alfa Romeo in Austin, Texas, when her sales team – made up of 60 percent women – had a record-breaking month in 2012 for number of Fiats sold. CEO Sergio Marchionne flew in on his Gulfstream to congratulate the team himself.
Although women make great sales consultants, Copeland says that time and again she sees them leave the dealership, and it’s often not because of discrimination.
Women as Caretakers
Another thing that industry insiders like Copeland think is holding women back from pursuing a career in car sales is their traditional role as caretaker.
“The reality is, not only do working women in partnerships tend to do more around the house than their partner – things like clean, make meals, pay bills, etc. – but they also increase how much they do once children are a part of the picture,” she says. “That can make working nights and weekends very difficult.”
Copeland left a lucrative career as a finance director in the industry after trying her best to make raising a family work by hiring a full-time nanny.
“I left because I had to. I came back because I wanted to,” she says. “It’s a problem we need to address, figuring out how to make selling cars conducive to family life, in order to retain more women.”
Looking Ahead, and Up
It’s hard to say for sure if things are looking up for women in automotive yet, but many industry insiders are optimistic.
“It’s getting better. We didn’t have social media 15 years ago. Now it’s so easy to share our stories, our experiences, and find support,” Herron says. “And women are rising through the ranks. It helps to see people who look like you in higher positions.”
Lockerd agrees. “It’s essential that change comes from the top,” he says.
Copeland sees another way to help ensure women’s success at dealerships. Offering salaried pay, rather than commission, would go a long way to accommodate family schedules. Yes, quotas would need to be met, she says, but hours would be much more regular and flexible.
She encourages women who are interested in the industry to partner with a mentor or two, and go for it.
“Men face challenges too. Their challenges are just different. Like they are less likely to ask questions and admit that they don’t know,” Herron says. “The challenges we face are just opportunities to get stronger.”