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Insight: Making progress in a man’s world

How many times have you heard managers say they would like to employ more females in their dealerships? Why then is there still a massive disparity in the gender mix within sales, after-sales and particularly management?

The problem is two-fold: not many females apply for positions and they are overlooked for promotion. Managers should positively encourage women to apply – a dealer who advertised for sales staff without mentioning that it was a motor retailer. received more female applicants than male, indicating that many women avoid the industry when the dealer’s advert is more transparent.

I recently undertook some research following the careers of female entrants to the industry. It revealed that fewer survive the first six months than their male peers. This initial period is crucial. Managers must ensure the inductee has the necessary training and support.

Women tend not to have the interest in cars that their male counterparts have. Most males will cite this interest and enthusiasm as the main reason they sought a career in the motor industry.

Ask women the same question and most say they joined the industry almost by accident and were less pro-active about seeking employment in the motor trade. Males sent their CVs out to dealers and registered with specialist agencies while females applied to vacancies advertised in local newspapers.

Further research showed that female entrants were less well educated than male entrants, and therefore less able to learn the required skills. This does not reflect the national situation where females equal and often outperform men at school and university.

Managers tended to recruit females for their looks and personality – attributes that do not transfer to sound management skills. Managers need women with a higher level of education and the intelligence to support a robust career path.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Most senior managers have worked their way up through the ranks, but 20 years ago the position of female entrants into our industry was even worse than it is today.

Many managers subconsciously recruit in their own image so the lack of female managers means that there are no mentors or role models for female staff.

For female managers, there is often tension between their identity as women and their professional identity in a male dominated environment where suitability for promotion is assessed on a set of male managerial characteristics such as dominance, assertiveness, self confidence and, to a certain extent, ruthlessness.

In today’s challenging environment, where customer satisfaction is king (or queen!), are these the traits we need to be encouraging?

A female’s interpersonal style is more co-operative and her basis for self-esteem is based on relationship building and nurturing – attributes that are advantageous in times when dealers are focusing on CRM and their business cultures are becoming more supportive to staff.

The main hurdles faced by women are male domination and sexism within the industry, covert discrimination and the long hours culture.

Women have less natural authority, confidence and self esteem and can feel the need to battle against the ‘male wall’.

Showrooms need diversity in terms of gender, age and race in order to mirror the balance of our target audience and improve the dealership experience.

Females need to become more adept at impressing management; they need to ask for management development courses. They should make sure their successes are acknowledged, as keeping quiet means managers are unaware of them.

Women looking for progression should plan their own career path clearly. Where do they want to be in five years’ time? What skills and training do they need to get there?

#AM_ART_SPLIT# They need to let management know what their goals are and what they are doing themselves to progress towards them and ask for help in areas where they feel weak.

If a male colleague leap-frogs them in the promotion stakes they need to consider what his special skills and abilities were and improve their own skills for the next opportunity.

The showroom environment is perceived to be intimidating by female customers. It will therefore seem the same to any new female recruits. Until there are more females in the showroom, this will be self-perpetuating.

But females are likely to help and support each other as well as softening the feel of the showroom and showing empathy for the female customers.

We need to take a new approach to recruiting females – task the agencies with headhunting professional females from other industries and throw away the ‘benchmarks’ for the personality questionnaires favoured by many HR departments.

Look at the work/life balance and introduce more flexible working patterns where possible. Develop the females you already have but, most of all, look beyond the gender stereotypes and judge each female on their individual attributes and capabilities.

  • Lynne Kennard is dealer principal for Dutton Forshaw Chrysler Jeep and Dodge Canterbury, part of Lookers. She recently completed a master’s degree in Retail Automotive Management from Loughborough University.

    #AM_SRT_SPLIT# Tips for success

  • Prepare your own personal development plan
  • Communicate your ambitions to your managers
  • Ensure your achievements are acknowledged
  • Ask for training
  • Be tenacious and pro-active in pursuing your goals
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