Dealers need to recruit women from outside auto, say retail executives

While the gender gap is narrowing in automotive retail, recruitment must focus on engaging new female talent, particularly women outside of the industry, said participants in the Oct. 24thAutomotive News Canada’s Leading Women roundtable.

While significant gains have been made in promoting women to senior posts, “where it’s more tough is attracting women to the industry,” said Brittany Deveau, general manager at Bruce Hyundai in New Minas, N.S.

“Women outside the industry aren’t the ones reading the automotive magazines, aren’t the ones probably watching this roundtable…It’s really up to us at a dealership level to make sure we’re doing all we can to make sure that women in our local areas know that there are opportunities – that they aren’t limited because they are women – to join the automotive industry.”

Deveau was joined on the panel by Claudia Sciama, managing director, autos and consumer goods at Google Canada; Shannon Slaughter, principal at Hyundai Pembroke in eastern Ontario; and Susannah Spence, director and market lead for the Atlantic Region at Scotiabank.

While acknowledging the continuing predominance of male dealer principals and general managers, Slaughter said people are shifting away from the old model where businesses were handed down from fathers to sons. “Women are phenomenal leaders,” she said. “I think that having the support of men and women in higher executive and leadership positions is really how we break down that barrier.”

Slaughter highlighted the importance of having leaders like Hyundai Canada CEO Don Romano who champion women. “Having his supports sets the example that the value you bring to the business is not defined by your gender.”

Challenges remain, however, as Spence cited an example from her career. In a field with a lot of women, albeit not in senior roles, she found male managers who acted as advocates and sponsors in her career. “They sought me out and wanted to encourage me and wanted me to apply for a higher management role,” she said.

But, they also asked her about her plans for having children. “So, you know, kind of an odd question, but I do feel like in this case, it was coming from a place of them trying to figure out their timeline for succession planning.”

Spence noted there are significantly more women in management roles on her team over her 25-year career in automotive financing. When she first started, women made up 10 per cent of her team. That figure has increased to 60 per cent.

Recruiting is critical, as the automotive business attracts more male candidates, Sciama noted. “I make sure that I have a gender diverse pipeline of candidates. For example, if I’m hiring for a new manager role and 100 per cent of the candidates applying are men, I will do a big effort with recruiting to make sure that at least half of the applicants are women,” she said. A balanced team, with gender equity, is good for business, Sciama said.

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