Melinda Welsh shares why the auto industry needs to change gears and focus on women.
The automotive industry needs women to be trailblazers, not just for our ideas and expertise but also because we represent a tremendous market opportunity.
When I moved from the Chase Credit Card team to Chase Auto, I focused on the work but I wasn’t blind to the fact that I was often the only woman in the room. Five years later, it’s still a regular occurrence for me to be the only woman at a table of 20 industry executives.
The women I do meet in the auto industry – like my colleagues at JPMorgan Chase and those who attended the recent Women in Automotive Conference – love the industry and stay with it for years, quite possibly because they can distinguish themselves in auto. And yes, women do love cars too!
“Women who work to find their niche will have the opportunity to build a successful career in auto.”
But there’s a lot of room for improvement. Women consumers are responsible for 65% of new vehicle purchases and service work done at dealerships.1 And women make up almost half of the U.S. labor force, yet they held only 26.7% of jobs in the auto manufacturing workforce in 2017. Furthermore, only 21.8% of auto dealer employees and 9.6% of auto repair and maintenance employees are women.2
Bottom line: There is opportunity in auto, specifically for women.
Female leaders can make an impact in auto
In my experience, women in the auto industry hold powerful functional and support positions, but rarely have revenue-generating responsibilities such as ownership of a P&L or dealership itself. There are many reasons for that. The traditional dealership world, for example, presents some challenges for work-life balance. If you’re in sales at a dealership, you’re often going to work long hours and Saturdays. The perceived lack of flexibility is where the industry may lose many women. But forward-thinking dealerships are starting to address that by hiring more women on their staff.
Many women are not aware of the breadth of opportunities available in auto. This two-trillion-dollar industry encompasses dealerships, manufacturers, servicing, financial services, marketing and technology. Women who work to find their niche will have the opportunity to build a successful career in auto.
Focusing on women is a smart business move
Achieving gender parity in its workforce also has the potential to transform the auto industry’s profit margins.
Women control or influence 73% of all household spending.3 But large gaps exist in the auto industry’s attention to its female customer base, which is fundamentally due to the lack of women working in the industry. An industry cannot achieve its full potential, while excluding the point of view of more than half of its consumers.
Take Earnhardt Auto Centers in Arizona, for example. They’ve developed an innovative program called Woman to Woman that offers customers who prefer to deal with women the opportunity to work with female sales consultants at some dealerships. When possible, the program also pairs those customers with women working in finance, service and parts departments. They’re finding that some female customers like having this option because it makes them feel more confident and comfortable with the car buying process. Additionally some male customers who used it report feeling less pressure.
By focusing on the needs of female consumers and empowering and adding female employees, the auto industry can realize real economic value. If we get it right for women, I believe the industry will benefit. When I talk to women who are curious about the auto industry, I always say the same thing, “Don’t be afraid to be the only woman sitting at the table – once the industry recognizes the opportunity, you won’t be.”