NADA recently advised that effective marketing; hosting visible events; fostering an inclusive culture; exploring talent outside the automotive industry; and staying abreast of hiring trends can...

NADA recently advised that effective marketing; hosting visible events; fostering an inclusive culture; exploring talent outside the automotive industry; and staying abreast of hiring trends can help attract more women to dealership roles.

IMAGE: Pexels/Hannah Nelson

At the 2024 Women Driving Auto Retail event hosted in conjunction with the NADA Show in Las Vegas, guests explored strategies for boosting female employment at auto dealerships.

Insights at the event could be distilled into five steps: effective marketing; hosting visible events; fostering an inclusive culture; exploring talent outside the automotive industry; and staying abreast of hiring trends.

Dealerships can use the strategies to attract and retain women in automotive retail, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.

Using the guidance as a starting point, Auto Dealer Today asked three women in different automotive retail roles for their thoughts on hiring and retaining female employees. Here is what they had to say:

Why Women?

As one of the industry’s few female dealers, Rita Case, CEO of Rick Case Automotive Group and the 2024 TIME Dealer of the Year, is used to being in the spotlight. She says she’s often the lone female at industry events and wants to change that because women have valuable skills that can benefit a dealership.

“Women have excellent organizational skills and are empathetic and compassionate,” she says. “These abilities complement the strengths of men at the dealership. Their skills are tools we need to be successful. Women have what it takes to be exceptional leaders.”

Jennifer Rappaport, president and CEO of EFG Companies, emphasizes the importance of bringing different viewpoints into dealerships. “A varied perspective is incredibly valuable.”

Case agrees and says that when she places a woman in a sales or service adviser role, she sees positive results. "They always come out on top in anything sales related. They are the top salesperson, the top in F&I, and the top service advisers because they are organized and positive. They wouldn’t be there if they didn’t love people and didn’t love the product.”

Still, Case believes women must see other successful women in the business in order to choose automotive careers. She says she strives to inspire women by speaking at high schools, colleges, on podcasts and at industry events, hoping that sharing her story will present automotive retail as a viable career choice.

“Women will not gravitate toward the car business naturally because their friends are not doing it. They will not hear about it,” she says. “Women need to see females in these roles. We need to do a better job of telling women there is a career for them in the car business.”

Ally Maynard Curley, sales manager at Haddad Subaru in Pittsfield, Mass., says automotive retail is a place for “strong, fiery women” but is often not a career they consider.

“I don’t think many women realize how successful they could be in the dealership life if they tried it out. It’s busy. But if you’re willing to be busy, it’s doing to be worth your time.”

Rappaport agrees, saying that most guidance counselors don't steer young women toward the industry. “It just isn’t one of the top industries people consider as they come out of college or high school. We should establish industry ambassadors who visit various colleges to educate graduating students about the possibilities in automotive retail. A dealership has jobs in everything from cybersecurity to data analytics, sales and service.”

While NADA has created awareness, Rappaport argues that more work is needed. “The industry needs to put itself in front of institutions that are developing these professions. We are missing out on some great candidates.”

A Path to Growth

According to Rappaport, women, as well as men, drop out of automotive retail in the first few years of their careers, a pattern she attributes to a lack of a career path and mentorship.

Rick Case Automotive Group provides a career-development process for employees who reach five years of service. “We do career pathing for some employees earlier than that if they are really passionate and promising,” Case says.

Its human resources department meets with identified employees, asking them about their current work, employment preferences and aspirations. “We then put them on a training plan within their own dealership to achieve those goals. We also host in-house conferences and bring in outside speakers to provide additional education.”

When women have a career path, Case says they are more likely to remain in the industry. “You cannot retain a cashier if she doesn’t have a career path. The only way you’re going to have a career path is if you meet with her and expose her to her options.”

Rappaport observes that the industry has undergone rapid changes since the Great Recession and the pandemic with a pivot to digital sales that can be attractive to people considering their career options. cur

“Business sophistication at the dealership level with business analytics and tracking and using data to make informed, actionable decisions will continue to provide more professional opportunities within automotive retail,” she says. “I think that’s exciting.”

More Work-Life Balance

Curley says she never imagined herself working in automotive retail. She’d received a master's degree in athletic training and worked as a trainer for seven years, but becoming a mother led her to switch careers.

“Athletic training/sports medicine is a second-shift job,” she explains. “I worked at a high school, so I worked from noon to 9 p.m. on game days.”

She sought work that allowed her to balance motherhood with a career, leading her to the business development center at Haddad Auto, where she handled internet and phone sales during traditional business hours. While the job matched her availability, Curley concedes she initially didn't think the role suited her. It didn’t take long before she was hooked, though.

“I was making deals over the phone, then working with the sales team to get those deals signed,” she says. “The sales team didn’t have to do any negotiating because the deal had already been made.”

Due to her success, Vice President and General Manager Chris Kramek asked Curley to join the sales department. But she had a problem, like with her earlier training work, the sales job had irregular hours and required working on Saturdays.

“I just couldn’t give up my Saturdays with my son,” she says. “As a divorced mother, I only get two Saturdays a month.”

Much to her surprise, the dealership allowed her to work from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and gave her every other Saturday off. “And let me tell you, there were some salespeople who were up in arms because my schedule differed from theirs.”

She tackled the negativity by working hard and matching the others’ sales. Before long, she had earned their respect and became the dealership's sales manager this past February, just three years later.

Today, Haddad Subaru divides its sales team into two groups that take turns working on Saturdays to accommodate all employees' desire for better work-life balance. “A lack of work-life balance is an absolute destination of burnout and constant turnover within this business,” Curley says.

Case recognizes Curley's story as the exception rather than the rule. “In the auto industry, you typically have to work the hours,” she says. “Our most successful female salespeople do whatever it takes to maximize their income, and that often means working extra hours.”

She says dealership salespeople essentially run their own businesses. The dealership provides them with customers, inventory, training and tools, and a place to work. “Their investment in this business is time,” she says. “That is the car business.”

The service department operates in the same manner, Case adds. Technicians usually provide their own tools, the dealership provides the customers, the cars to repair, a service adviser, and a workspace.

“All they have to do is repair the car,” she says. “They can make as much money as they want to make if they put in the time. Technicians are desperately needed, so a technician can work 11 hours a day, six days a week if they want to.”

Rappaport says she had to balance work and motherhood as she worked her way up through the industry and that her journey has shown her that women can successfully juggle a career and family in automotive retail.

Despite that, Rapaport highlights the industry's obligation and need to give more attention to work-life balance to address employee retention. "Retaining employees in automotive retail is a problem, regardless of gender. Part of the problem is work-life balance. The industry is going to have to take a step back and evolve to offer that.

“Retention is vital for a successful dealership. The longer employees stay with you, the better they are trained, and the better trained they are, the better your sales and your compliance will be.”

Curley adds that to retain women in automotive retail, they must be respected and heard. “Management needs to make sure there is respect across the board, whether you are male or female, because it has to go both ways. I don’t want men to tiptoe around me just because I’m a woman. I just want them to respect me. But respect is earned. I have shown them they can trust me.” 

Commissioned Sales Mindset

Commissioned sales are another key reason that women quit automotive retail, according to Case.

She explains that some women—not all, as her general manager is female—prefer the security of a fixed salary. “They dislike the uncertainty of not knowing what they are going to get paid every two weeks.”

Another challenge that arises is the discomfort associated with negotiations, she adds, noting that some women shy away from price negotiation.

Case also mentions the sales process not always ending at a specific time, requiring the salesperson to stick around until it’s done. The seller can get around that by having someone else close the sale, she says, but then they have to split their commission, which leads to a loss of income.

Moving from commissioned sales can eliminate those concerns. Case admits she experimented with product specialist roles in her dealerships but reverted to traditional commissioned sales.

“I’ve let the managers negotiate, and all the sellers had to do is get people interested in the car. But when people are paid a set amount per unit, it reduces the motivation to hold the selling price.”

She acknowledges that the industry’s long-held commission-based sales are an obstacle. “There are some fundamental changes in how we operate a car dealership to move toward noncommissioned sales, which I see in the future, but just not yet.”

Ronnie Wendt is an editor at Auto Dealer Today.

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Originally posted on Auto Dealer Today