Sarah Welch, Liza Borches and Gina Callari tell us how, and what else we need to do.
The automotive industry, typically a male dominated world, is changing. That’s because consumers are adapting new technologies, companies are looking for diversity in their ranks and women, who buy or influence the purchase of 85% of all cars, are flexing their consumer muscle. As a result, now might be one of the best times for a woman to feel confident in car buying or in career building the auto industry.
“Diversity comes along with new ideas,” says Gina Callari, chief operating officer of EVOX Images. “Women bring a huge amount of knowledge and ideas to the table and it’s a disservice to brands when they don’t diversify.” This is the core of changes the industry is seeing and what is driving new ways of doing business and success strategies, especially in the face of challenging times.
Gina will join Liza Borches, the president of Carter Myers Automotive and Sarah Welch, chief marketing officer of CarGurus in conversation with Scotty Reiss, founder of A Girls Guide Cars on September 29th to talk about what they are seeing and how they are adapting to these changes. The panel kicks off the return of Reuter’s Celebrating Women in Automotive series with “How Women are Changing the Face of Automotive Retail.”
Contactless Car Buying Means More Control for Buyers
Touchless delivery has been a widely adopted method among many dealers in the wake of Covid-19. With the inability to safely conduct business face-to-face, the focus has shifted to exploring contactless services ranging from online chats and video meetings to augmented reality where buyers can see what a vehicle would look like sitting in their own driveway.
Consumers are “wanting more and more of the transaction to move online,” Sarah explained from her experience in working with over 30,000 dealers in the country. “There’s been a very radical shift in openness and even preference for doing the transactions online”
“I think all consumers feel more in control of the process with the technology available,” Liza says. She has been watching this situation develop rapidly in their dealerships these past 6 months. “But I think,” she continues, “specifically women were more uncomfortable to come into the dealership environment than men. If anything it has given women a stronger control of the process, allowing them to communicate with dealership personnel on their own time.” She hopes this leads to a higher level of trust as we move forward, making women more comfortable with the entire process.
Sarah points out that there is a fear of car buying in a highly pressurized moment, forcing consumers to feel as if they must make a rapid decision and end up being taken advantage of. But this new process, Welsh says, resonates with women more because they are able to be in control of the communication and collecting their thoughts. By having the space to think about how you want to respond, women can avoid this “high pressure moment” all together.
It’s An Advantage to be a Women in Automotive
On the other side of the buying process, the three women share their perspectives on what it means to work in automotive. While no career is without its trials or challenges, none of the three panelists view being a woman in automotive as a direct disadvantage.
“I think it’s been an advantage and a benefit to be in a male dominated industry. It sometimes gives you a louder voice.” Liza states, “If there were all men in a room, sometimes they felt like they needed a female voice.”
“I faced every single obstacle you could imagine as a female,” says Gina, who got her first job at a car dealer simply because she needed a job. And while the business has changed and she still faces some struggles, “all of my experiences have molded me into the person I am today,” she explains. “I don’t know if I could have been as strong if I was in a different industry. While I wish I had more women co-workers, I have been surrounded by strong men who have acted as my mentors and helped mold me into who I am today. Now, I have amazing men who I get to mentor. They look up to me and are gracious and appreciative to me for showing them a different outlook on things. That, to me, has been extremely gratifying.”
“From an opportunity perspective,” Sarah reminds us, “we need to thoughtfully advocate for the strengths women bring as opposed to trying to blend in or be a part of the automotive industry the way it has been traditionally done.” Sarah emphasizes that working in automotive as a woman is not about suppressing your womanhood, but about thinking and applying your unique traits as a woman.
The Biggest Challenge in Automotive? Recruiting Other Women
“I feel as a female leader,” Liza says, “I should have more success bringing more women in the automotive industry.” There has been some progress in the last few years, but it still remains the biggest challenge, she acknowledges. Out of 983 job applications at Carter Myers Automotive, roughly 6% of those applicants were filled out by women looking for a service or sales position. “If we actually want to grow the number of women in the retail side of this business, we can’t wait for applications to come in.” Liza concludes.
“It’s not that we don’t want women in the positions we have available,” Gina agrees, “It’s because we can’t find anybody. I don’t have any female applicants who come through except for administrative positions.”
Sarah adds that often, women felt they had to be “one of the boys to be successful,” particularly for the first wave of women in sales.
“It’s about thinking about their unique strengths and bringing their womanhood to their roles,” She explains, “as opposed to just suppressing them to get along in the teams. I think that’s created a more satisfying experience for those women to be their true selves and made it a more attractive environment for women to join.” Their numbers aren’t where they want them to be, she says, but they are improving since they worked hard to put the proper resources and mentorships in place.
You Don’t Need to Know Cars, You Need to Understand People, to be Successful in the Automotive Industry
As the automotive industry changes rapidly with contactless service, now might be the time for women looking to use their communication skills even if they don’t think they have the automotive knowledge to “cut it.”
“It really is a shame.” Sarah says. “I do feel that it’s challenging to get women into this industry mainly because there is this idea that you have to have automotive knowledge to come in. People would be surprised at how much automotive knowledge they have. Automotive knowledge is about wants, desires, likes, driving experience – so it’s very subjective. To bring all those ideas to the table is beneficial to everyone.”
Liza agrees. “This industry is not actually about cars, it’s about people, to figure out where they want to go and we just happen to have vehicles that help them get there.”