The automobile industry has evolved considerably in the past two decades, in terms of vehicle design, safety features, fuel efficiency, on-board electronics and connectivity.
One area that has also evolved is the representation of women in the industry. Although I don’t have firm numbers, there are more women working at dealerships and auto-related businesses now than ever before.
Where women formerly worked mostly in clerical, finance or administrative positions, today they serve as dealer principals, general managers, controllers, accountants, sales consultants, sales managers, human resource managers, service managers, parts advisors, auto technicians and marketing specialists.
At the corporate level, women hold many leadership positions in the auto manufacturing sector, including Bev Goodman, president and CEO of Ford Canada; Erin Buchanan, general manager of manufacturing at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada; Susan Kenny, engine plant manager at Honda Canada Manufacturing; Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of Linamar Corporation; and Jeanette Wiltshire, manager of retail marketing and programs at Hyundai Auto Canada, to name a few.
The Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) is a strong advocate for creating more inclusive workplaces. At the 2020 Canadian International AutoShow, the TADA hosted Women Driven, a networking event aimed at creating greater awareness among women about the diverse careers available in the retail, manufacturing and aftermarket segments of the industry.
Participants included media outlets, new-car dealerships and dealer groups, automobile manufacturers, aftermarket suppliers and post-secondary schools that offer automotive courses.
Women Driven was the brainchild of Susan Gubasta (the first female president of the TADA in 2018 and 2019, and president and CEO of Mississauga Toyota), along with four other women who have carved out successful careers in the auto industry. The sold-out event drew more than 350 people.
A second Women Driven event will take place on Tuesday, April 12. This will be a virtual event, featuring an impressive line-up of women guest speakers, an industry panel, networking opportunities, sponsors and prizes.
In addition to creating more awareness of career opportunities for women in automotive, TADA is planning to make Women Driven an annual event, and automotive companies are encouraged to host their own Women Driven events to empower, educate and encourage a more diverse workplace.
In 2018, the TADA launched a Women in Automotive mentoring program, which is designed to connect post-secondary students with auto-industry leaders who offer support and advice while encouraging young women to consider careers in automotive retailing.
Hiring practices at dealerships have evolved significantly since I first entered the business in the late 1980s. Dealers have altered their hiring practices and have fostered work environments that are welcoming and supportive of women and traditionally underrepresented people.
Dealerships now hire candidates based on skills and talents and are actively looking for a wider set of skills, including communication skills, community involvement, networking capabilities and customer experience. Many women candidates are uniquely qualified with these skills.
While more women are pursuing careers in the auto industry, the industry still has work to do in achieving gender equity and promoting women into senior management positions.
Government legislation, better education and training and changing public attitudes towards more equality in the workplace are helping to move the needle towards greater gender equity in hiring and promoting.
What will it take to further increase the number of women who work at dealerships?
Industry leaders need to continue to create and retain a gender-diverse workplace. Hiring more women into senior leadership positions will significantly contribute to changing the bias, which will filter throughout an organization.
Employers can create informal and formal networking groups, which are a powerful tool to provide support and guidance to female workers and the advancement of their careers.
I believe greater diversity within the auto industry will lead to more productive workplaces and a stronger industry as a whole.
To view current jobs available at dealerships, and auto education programs at post-secondary schools, visit carsandjobs.com.
Michael Eatson is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is president of Peterborough Volkswagen. This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to tada.ca. For information about automotive trends and careers, visit carsandjobs.com.
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