Twenty-five years ago, most women who worked at new car dealerships had clearly defined roles and limited career opportunities.
They worked as receptionists and as support staff, in the human resources and accounting departments. There were a handful of women service advisers, salespeople and in management, but those were the exceptions.
During my 25-year career, I have seen an enormous cultural shift in retail automotive, and I have enjoyed a unique perspective into the evolving roles of women and their career advancement.
I have worked as a service adviser, a tower operator (co-ordinating vehicle traffic and work flow in the service department), a business manager and a general manager.
Fourteen years ago, I became the general manager at our family-owned Toyota dealership. Today, as dealer principal, I have been proactive about hiring and promoting women based on their skills and work ethic, and I have mentored many women who have aspired to advance their careers.
Today, women serve as dealer principals, general managers, sales managers, salespeople, controllers, human resource managers, service and part advisers and digital marketing experts. They sit on boards for automotive associations and occupy leadership positions with some of the largest automotive companies in the world.
As more women have entered the retail automobile industry, and advanced in their careers, two interesting dynamics have unfolded.
One is the reception (and reaction) among a few male colleagues who work at dealerships; the other has been the reception among some customers.
While the majority of men accepted women colleagues as equals, some did not. Women faced resistance and had more to prove working with men performing the same jobs. Respect had to be earned.
Over time, as women proved that they could perform a role as effectively as their male colleagues, the men were more accepting.
The other dynamic has been the perception of customers of women performing jobs typically performed by men. There have been instances where customers wondered whether a woman service adviser or salesperson possessed the training and knowledge to perform their jobs. Thankfully, this is not so much an issue any more.
Is gender equality in the retail automobile industry where it needs to be? No. We are closer to achieving gender parity in terms of employment and opportunities for advancement for women, but we are not there yet.
Is the culture at dealerships today (in terms of accepting women in all roles and opportunities for women to succeed) where it needs to be? Again, no.
However, the ratio and the culture are changing for the better every day.
My role as President of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association allows me an opportunity to speak to women about the issues that they face in the workforce, and to promote the career opportunities in our industry.
At the 2018 Canadian International AutoShow in February, and at other industry conferences this year, I have spoken publicly about my desire to see more women working at dealerships, and aspiring to leadership positions in all industries, and in politics.
This message is resonating with audiences, especially with teens and twentysomethings, as evidenced by popularity of automotive programs at the Automotive Business School of Canada at Georgian College in Barrie, Centennial College, Durham College and other post-secondary schools.
If you are a male or female student trying to find a career, or someone looking for a career change, you owe it to yourself to explore the retail automobile industry. The only thing limiting you in a career in automotive is yourself. It is an industry full of opportunity.
The retail automobile industry is a far different industry today than when I first started working in it — there are opportunities for both men and women to find fulfilling careers and excel in wide range of careers.
This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to [email protected] or go to tada.ca. Susan Gubasta is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is President/CEO of Mississauga Toyota.
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