Published Saturday May 10 2014
The retail car industry has undergone some radical changes over the past three decades. One of the most remarkable is the roles of men and women working inside dealerships.
When I began working as an automotive apprentice in the 1970s, women worked exclusively in clerical jobs "upstairs" - in accounting, accounts payable and human resources. Or they worked as receptionists.
Back then, there were no women service advisors or automotive technicians. No women salespeople or sales managers. No women business managers or dealer principals.
Today, it's a much different story. Women work alongside male counterparts as salespeople, service advisors, detailers, business managers, collision appraisers, marketing co-coordinators, IT specialists, sales managers and dealer principals.
Has it been easy for women to make these transitions and to embrace new roles? Not always, according to the women I interviewed for this column.
Women confessed that when they began working at traditional male jobs, they frequently faced resentment and resistance from male colleagues and customers. It sometimes took months and years to gain respect and acceptance in the workplace, and it wasn't easy.
Males (particularly in their 50s and older) were at first skeptical that women could perform jobs that had been the traditional domain of men. To gain respect and prove that they belonged, women had to work a lot harder. This is typical of most industries.
Accepting women salespeople and service advisors was occasionally an issue for customers, who weren't used to discussing electrical systems, computer diagnostics and warranty issues with women, and it has taken years for customers to accept this new workplace reality.
Now, there are situations where women customers feel more comfortable (and a deeper level of trust) dealing with women sales consultants and service advisors.
I'd like to say that all customers accept women in all types of roles, but that's not the case. Women still feel the sting of sexism and raised eyebrows every day, but times are changing; dealerships are far more accepting and comfortable with the reality of women performing all roles.
Based on my experiences and observations, when men and women work together, it adds a positive dynamic to the workplace and, in the long run, I believe that customers are better served.
While women have successfully embraced new roles and job functions at dealerships, so too have men. Jobs once performed only by women - in human resources, accounting and accounts payable - are now routinely performed by men.
Interestingly, as the roles of men and women have reversed, opportunities for advancement and lateral movement have become commonplace among both genders. All employees, regardless of gender, are recognized for their skill level and performance and are given opportunities to succeed.
When I first started working in the car business, new car dealerships excluded and discouraged women from taking on certain jobs and operated like an 'all-boys' club.
Thankfully that doesn't happen anymore. Women now perform a multitude of jobs with great skill and proficiency. I don't have stats to prove it, but I wouldn't be surprised if women didn't comprise 30 - 40 per cent of the overall workforce at dealerships today.
Men still outnumber women in the car business, but the opportunities for women to pursue careers and to succeed have never been greater. When I visit high schools and colleges today, I am encouraged at the number of female students interested in careers in this sector.
More women are entering the car business and finding careers that are engaging, challenging and ultimately rewarding. If you are a woman of any age, and if you enjoy working with teams, learning new skills and interacting with people, then I urge you to consider the retail car business.
A world of opportunity awaits.