What I Learned at Women in Automotive
By Kathy Gilbert
The past few days have been filled with inspiring women, supportive men, innovative ideas and unrelenting passion. The third annual Women in Automotive Conference was held this summer in Orlando, Florida, and we welcomed our largest group yet. Throughout my career at CDK Global, I’ve spent more and more time dedicated to minority and women dealerships. When I got the opportunity to be a part of founding the Women in Automotive conference a few years ago, I jumped at the chance. Events like this remind me why supporting and encouraging women in the industry is so essential — and why the future in automotive really is female.
I could go on about the many lessons I learned at this year’s conference, but you would be reading this blog for hours. Instead, I’ll share a few of the biggest takeaways that stuck with me:
Women are Different
It’s not a total surprise that men and women are different, but we don’t always approach those differences well in the auto industry. Leading up to the conference, CDK did two research studies focused on women and their experiences in dealerships— one focused on the customer and the other on employees. Laura Clapp, director, dealer group agency, shared the differences in reviews of dealerships between men and women — and how they illustrated how dealerships should tailor their experience to women. In my breakout session, I shared the results of a survey of women in dealerships, how they felt about the industry and how these insights can draw and retain women in the industry. I was encouraged by the results that overall, women felt respected in the industry, but it was obvious that we still have strides to make. Fifty-seven percent of women said they have experienced gender bias in the industry, and 53 percent reported that promoting women in dealerships is generally not a focus. But women can be the biggest change agents in shifting the culture in a dealership to one that attracts and retains winning female talent. The top leadership styles used by female dealership owners reflected how women feel supported through coaching and relationship building. And speaking of being relational…
The Power of Relationships
I love these events for the relationships that you can build and create. I’m thoroughly inspired by women like Evelyn Chatel, one of our own dealers whose rags-to-riches story pulls at my heartstrings every time I hear it. I was able to spend time getting to know so many other inspiring women and their stories over dinner and in sessions.
This year, I was encouraged by the support of so many men who are rising to the challenge of empowering women in the industry. Jeffery Halter of YWomen opened the conference by taking the stage in red high heels! He then shared how those heels represent the struggle women have in corporate environments and how men need to rise to the challenge to empower women — because it’s not only the RIGHT thing to do, but also the profitable thing to do.
In our own research studies presented at the conference, the importance of relationships continued to surface. We found that the female-owned dealerships simply do things differently than male-owned dealerships — and much of that came back to how they treated their customers. We continually found that women value relational experiences, both as consumers and as dealership employees. As Evelyn Chatel said in her talk, “The car is just an object; we’re in the people business.” Focusing on how to build and encourage genuine relationships in the industry proved to be a key takeaway.
Mentorship is Key
If you know me at all, you know that I’m passionate about mentorship. And this year, in keynote after keynote, we heard the importance of finding your “tribe,” sponsor, or mentor. I also learned the importance of simply encouraging other women and doing my best to mentor others — even if I don’t always feel like I have all of the answers. Nicole Cockcroft of Headquarter Automotive sat with me at lunch one day, and as we were sharing our experiences, she told me how a conversation we had last year about taking risks and accepting challenges encouraged her to seek out and accept a promotion to Parts & Service Director at her dealership. I was floored that a simple conversation I had with her a year ago had enough impact to change the course of her career. Needless to say, for the rest of the conference I was tuned in to how I could further encourage other women in the industry.
As I go back to my “real life,” these lessons will stick with me. I’m so excited to return to the next Women in Automotive conference and hear more stories about how women and men were inspired and applied what they learned once they returned back to their everyday jobs. I’m also so proud to see the continual progress being made in the industry to better support women. Here’s to strong women. May we know them, be them and raise them.
CDK Global is proud to support women and minority-owned businesses.