The Bottom Line Case for Attracting and Keeping Good Women
by : Gerry Myers

As more and more women make automotive purchases, dealerships that have competent women in sales and service will reap greater rewards. The best salespeople build a loyal customer base by establishing relationships with their clientele. They don’t depend on walk-ins. Women are better at building relationships. Therefore, one way to increase your business and long-term customers is by hiring more women. Working to have your sales force better reflect your customer base is a sound business decision.

Recruiting quality women into sales, service and management isn’t just a difficult task for automotive dealerships and manufacturers; it is difficult for many industries. Hiring women may seem daunting, but it is nevertheless necessary.

Why is this important?

Diversity is important in any job. According to Philip Johnson, VP of human resources for the Asbury Group in New York, “There is a correlation between having more women in sales and selling to more women.”

Women have the advantage in automotive sales because they are perceived by most customers, men and women alike, to be more honest.

The key question is how?

Advisory Link created a Women’s Advisory Board (WAB) that came to the rescue of a financial institution made up of 70 agents, with only one being female. By looking at how they were recruiting women, what made women successful in the industry and a number of other factors, the WAB was able to help the financial institution focus on the right type of women for the jobs they were looking to fill. Then they helped them target their recruiting efforts. 

The financial institution efforts have paid off.  In 2003, when the WAB first met, the agency had one woman agent out of 70. At year-end 2006, there were six women, and within the next couple of months the number of women agents will double to 12. All the women hired have become top producers. In the last few years, the retention rate for women was far better than that of men. The WAB also helped mentor the women in many ways to help ensure their success. Within three years, the women were generating more than 10 times the income they were prior to the WAB.

Set a goal – make it a priority

To achieve the mix you would like in your dealership, you must set a goal, develop a plan and make the effort a priority. Whether you decide to have a Women’s Advisory Board, participate in career nights or run promotional campaigns, you have to have a plan. Nothing is going to change overnight, so allocate a reasonable amount of time to see results, as well as the dollars needed to make your plan work.

Keep your options open. Explore nontraditional ways of finding quality candidates. Maybe college students or military retirees are a good way to go. Try events in the dealership to draw the kind of people you are looking for, or implement a referral incentive program with your current staff. By developing a successful plan and a strong selling team, you will acquire lifelong customers which will more than pay for your efforts.

A case of success

Tracy Hargis, HR Director for David McDavid dealerships in the Dallas area, has increased the number of women in sales positions in their dealerships by more than 10 percent. According to Hargis, one reason for her success is that she has management’s support. “I hire the best people, but I’m always on the lookout for women to add to our mix,” said Hargis. “To get quality women you have to invest the time. You can’t just place an ad and expect them to walk through the door.

“We seek out our candidates. We don’t wait for them to come to us,” Hargis explained. Searching resumes on, and other similar web sites are just one way Hargis and her team looks for the type of people they want in their dealerships. With a centralized recruiting process, they recruit for four dealerships and assist seven others in their efforts long distance.

“Getting women to think about selling cars is the first step,” said Hargis. “Most women have never thought about it. You have to explain the job, how they can develop a career path into management if they want and that training and mentoring is offered to support them. We don’t just say, ‘Here’s your desk.’

“We have a strong onboard process when we bring someone new in,” said Hargis. “We work to make sure their initial couple of days is a very positive experience.”

Changing the culture to fit the times

When asked how she maintained and grew a culture that supports 15 percent women, Kim Eddy, general manager of Champion Toyota Gulf Freeway, Houston, Texas knew the answer. In order to accomplish what she wanted, Eddy had to change the culture so that everyone in the dealership understood that she was going to hire a few part-time salespeople.

“We have one woman who works Thursday through Saturday afternoons and evening, stated Eddy, “when we have the heaviest traffic. She is terrific. I wouldn’t want to lose her, but she couldn’t continue to work full-time.” Eddy has also hired four college students that work in the afternoons and on Saturday while going to classes in the morning. One of them is a woman.

One of the main ways Eddy gets new salespeople is by word-of-mouth, not just from longtime employees, but from new hires. Champion Toyota only recruited one student at first. The students helped recruit the others.

 “Once the college students realized how much money they could make, they are considering coming onboard full-time when they graduate,” Eddy stated.

Several of Eddy’s recruits were previously waitresses. Women who are in retail sales or work at restaurants are used to long hours, nights and weekends. They can sell cars and make more money, but the key is to engage them…to plant the seed.

Teaching technical information about cars is easy. It is harder to teach people skills and exceptional customer service. If you find a great waitress, chances are she understands what customers want.

Women’s ability to listen, to focus on details, and to share different perspectives than their male counterparts’ help dealerships better understand their female customers.

While there are obstacles that must be overcome, recruiters need to: 

  • Understand family responsibilities and demands on women

  • Realize that selling cars usually isn’t on a woman’s career radar screen

  • Get women thinking about selling cars as a viable career

  • Think about making job sharing or flextime positions in order to alleviate the long hours

  • Diffusing the negative publicity the media frequently airs about the automotive industry

There are plenty of great women out there who would make impressive sales and service advisors. Dealerships just have to find them, intrigue them with the opportunities the career has to offer, and perhaps, change the culture to better support women. These cultural changes will be important in keeping men as well, especially younger generations who aren’t willing to work the long hours their baby boomer parents did.

Encouraging women to apply may not be easy. However, it is equally important that once they are onboard, you make sure you support them. After all, their success is your success.


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