Some of the UK’s leading dealer groups are uniting in a new initiative to improve the perception of the industry to women – and get more females working in senior positions in their businesses.
Julia Muir (pictured), who has spent her working life in the automotive industry, starting out at Perrys Motor Sales and including 11 years at Ford, has founded the UK Automotive 30% Club.
Its members aim is to have 30% of senior roles in their businesses held by women by 2030 – or ’30 by 30’.
Already signed up since the January launch are dealer groups Vertu Motors, Lookers, Group 1 Automotive, TrustFord, Vantage Motor Group and manufacturers Toyota, Mazda, Kia and Bentley. The Institute of the Motor Industry is also a member.
Muir describes the club as a “group of progressive, forward thinking” dealer group and manufacturer bosses.
“I feel strongly that there isn’t such a thing as female market. Women are half the population, differentiated only by one pair of chromosomes,” Muir said. “But it has become very easy – and common – to say ‘we don’t employ many women’ therefore we don’t understand the female market.”
Muir teaches at Loughborough University’s Centre for Automotive Management on providing great customer experience. Her course highlights the key role authentic leadership and employee engagement contributes to creating a comfortable working environment, which in turn means customers feel comfortable visiting the business.
“When customers go to a dealership, they enter an inherently different environment: it’s a combination of different businesses in one place, different practices and cultures pulled together, most markedly the showroom and workshop,” Muir said. So, there is already a challenge to ensuring the workplace is comfortable to be in.
Gender balance can contribute to this. “Research shows people are happier in a working environment where there is a gender balance. It reflects life outside – the world in general.”
Club members have committed to working on four stages to achieving ’30 by 30’, that include giving their time to speak in schools and colleges about their experiences and the benefits of working in the automotive sector, addressing bias in their recruitment and selection processes, ensuring talented women seize opportunities to advance within their businesses and, finally, ‘holding on’ to them by providing a suitable work-life balance.
The UK Automotive 30% Club holds its first meeting on March 14.
From then on participating dealers and manufacturers will adapt the strategy, learn through experience and trial and error, with a significant part played by HR departments. An early step will be to implement the ’30 by 30’ strategy with a strong associated message to consumers. Muir will establish an HR directors’ forum that will become the driving force for the initiative. Business heads will re-group once a year at a dinner and conference.
She admits not everyone will agree to the plan. And as such not all businesses will survive. It will be a case of change or die, she says.
“Technology is allowing our work tools to change, which is changing customer behaviour and expectations. Our shopping experience is much more carefully designed to be from a customer’s point of view, not the retailers. Those that can best fit the new environment will survive.”
And the founding members of The UK Automotive 30% Club realise this, Muir stressed.
“Everyone in the club knows the importance of achieving a more realistic gender mix. It leads to better decisions, more profitability, better customer experience and employee engagement.”
> See the May issue of AM (out at the end of April) for an in-depth interview with Julia Muir on the UK Automotive 30% Club.