Increasing gender diversity is an ongoing challenge in fixed operations. But the coronavirus pandemic just might offer a make-lemonade-from-lemons moment, especially if many furloughed employees don't return, observers note.
To capitalize on the potential opportunity, two female executives at auto groups with enviable levels of female employment, Liza Borches and Vanessa Delegas, suggest leveraging referrals, making job requirements less technical and using social media.
Borches says most women don't have the automotive industry on their list while job hunting. But it's important for a dealership's service drive to reflect its customer base in regard to age, gender and race.
"We can't wait for women to apply for positions; we need to pull them in," said Borches, CEO and dealer principal of Carter Myers Automotive in Charlottesville, Va. "That means we must be more intentional about recruiting. Contact women we know who are vendors, current customers and existing associates.
"I call it the three R's: relationships, referrals and reputation."
About 25 percent of the roughly 650 employees at Carter Myers' 15 dealerships are female, including 45 percent of its service advisers, Borches says.
Nationwide, just 19 percent of dealership employees are female, according to a National Automobile Dealers Association study released in 2018, the latest year for which data is available.
Borches said it helps if dealerships develop less technical job criteria. Instead, job descriptions should emphasize attributes such as likability, professional appearance, positive attitude, willingness to learn and communication skills.
Delegas is CEO of Lovering Auto Group, which owns three stores in New Hampshire. About one-third of the group's 94 employees are female, including a female assistant parts manager and two female service advisers, she said.
To help recruit more women, Lovering instituted a program that awards employees $500 if someone they refer for a job gets hired and stays for six months," Delegas said. "And if I have a great waitress at a restaurant, I give her a business card."
Borches and Delegas also note their dealerships' websites include a video featuring profiles of female employees.
It also helps having female ownership — Delegas is a co-owner of the family-owned group — and promoting women from within.
Success begets success, they both agree.
"If you're a woman and see a building full of men, it's intimidating," Delegas said. "But if you're a woman and see other women in leadership roles, it's exciting."