Is the Auto Industry a Woman's Nation?
"For the first time in our history, half of all U.S. workers are women. Mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families." from The Shriver Report.
The promotion of Susan Docherty to General Motors' top U.S. sales position last week marks the first time a woman has held that position in the automaker's 101-year history, according to the company. Docherty's promotion to vice president of U.S. sales means she will become the first and only woman on CEO Fritz Henderson's newly formed, nine-person executive committee. Susan Docherty is now the highest-ranked woman working at an auto maker! Congratulations Susan (it's about time GM!).
Although this is a reason for me to celebrate, Susan Docherty represents a very small percent of female executives at auto makers and automotive aftermarket companies as a whole. Overall in the U.S. today women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar men earn, and women are less likely to be in leadership positions in corporate America. As of July 2008, only 15 companies on the Fortune 500 list were run by female chief executives.
Women's automotive associations and organizations have sprung up or have grown tremendously over the past five years. Scholarship fund programs for women seeking automotive careers in all types of automotive career roles are growing. Less than 1 percent of all National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence certified automotive service technicians are women. In new car dealerships, women are about 20 percent of employee workforce, yet only 7 percent are working in front-line management, sales, or service advisor positions. Out of approximately 16,000 new car dealerships less than 7 percent are woman-owned and operated.
The Shriver Report states, "For example, men now agree with women that government and business need to provide flexible work schedules, better childcare, family and medical leave, and equal pay." Yet few automotive retailers provide flex-schedules for families and for single working mothers who are often working 70 or 80 hours a week.
I am asked quite a frequently by automotive retailers how they can find and hire more women. They tell me women are just not applying for the positions and they want to hire more women. Creating a culture where women customers feel safe and comfortable will help automotive retailers to attract, hire, and retain qualified women employees. Offering not only full-time employment but flexible work place policies such as part time, work at home, team selling, and job-sharing for everyone (not just women) will increase your odds on hiring more women. After all, work life balance is an issue for everyone.
Women also influence more than 85 percent of all automotive sales in U.S. households. They make up anywhere from 50 percent to 65 percent of the customer base at service centers and purchase 60 percent of all passenger tires. Yet according to the Yankelovich Monitor, 74 percent of women feel misunderstood by automotive marketers and are still reporting that the experience of visiting an automotive retailers is akin to having a tooth pulled.
To become an "Auto Industry Women's Nation," the high percentage of men at the helm need to really grasp the fact that women consumers hold the automotive purse strings and work to create a culture that embraces women employees, an environment where women feel comfortable to spend their dollars, and reach them with advertising campaigns that are "spot on." It's time for automotive retailers to get over any hidden, or not, misogynistic feelings about women -- or lose market share to your competitors who are addressing the changing landscape and purchasing power of women.
President and CEO
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