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6 strategies to build a better DEI program in your F&I department

Every dealership in the new post-lockdown COVID world has had to deal with staff turnover and the fallout from what most economists have dubbed The Great Resignation. Millions have left the job market in the last couple of years, and dealerships have not been immune. Add to that the already challenging headwinds of low inventory and rising interest rates, and you have a pretty turbulent time for most dealers.

So, the question becomes, how do you bring more diverse applicants back into the dealership environment, particularly in F&I? And are there better ways to attract more women and minorities to apply? When businesses are focusing more resources and attention on DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) for their employees, dealerships should, too.

At its core, building a better environment for all to feel welcome is more than just hiring people from diverse backgrounds. It’s about looking at the entire organization and making it a welcoming place where everyone’s potential is encouraged and everyone’s voice is heard.

F&I is no different. It’s a department where you’re expected to build rapport with customers and see each customer’s unique story to help them not only be able to buy their dream car but also to help protect them from unexpected financial burdens along the way. And to better do that, it helps to have a staff that looks more like the community around it.Here are six strategies to help your F&I department (and the dealership) rise to the challenge of implementing a DEI program that works for everyone.

1. Make diversity a priority

Evaluate leadership positions and make it a goal to hire a more diverse staff. Look at existing staff and reach out to train and mentor so that when new management positions open up, you will have employees that will not only be ready for the jump but will be excited to get the opportunity to do so. If looking at outside hires, make it clear in your ads that DEI is an organizational priority and that you encourage women and minority candidates to apply.

2. Encourage dialogue

Women and minority staff in F&I are already few and far between, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t listen to employees elsewhere in the dealership to help form a better understanding of the challenges they see in moving up. Make it a point to get to know them and their own career goals so that you can build better pathways for their success. These are unique voices that will bring fresh perspectives to management.

3. Community outreach

Be an active participant in local/national organizations that support women and minority career development in the auto industry and hold events locally to encourage the same. Join in university or community college job fairs with a sharp focus on DEI for potential new hires. It’s a fact that Gen Z looks for this as a primary factor in where they want to work when leaving school.

4. Look at other dealership successes

If there are other dealerships near you that have been successful in their own DEI programs, reach out and get feedback on what worked and what didn’t for them. Dealers are a competitive bunch for sure, but this transcends all that. Approaching your peers to exchange ideas on how they are succeeding at more diverse hiring and soliciting their guidance helps the entire industry.

5. Anonymous surveys

More businesses have adopted anonymous employee surveys to get a more accurate and unbiased window into what is working and what is not with DEI programs (or lack thereof). Giving your staff a chance to weigh in without fear of reprisal can better guide your management team to the corrections that need to be made to help everyone feel like their unique voices and concerns are being heard.

6. Take a broader approach

Look at everything in the F&I and dealership environment…what are policies on work-life balance, mental health, wellness, and cultural celebrations? F&I may be a small department, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a focus on department culture in general. Flexible schedules (which can be tricky in F&I but not impossible), wellness programs to help reduce stress, and even guest speakers to address cultural issues in the community can lift everyone’s sense of purpose and belonging.

Building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive dealership environment is not a giant mountain to conquer but rather a series of hills that can be navigated step by step to create a better place for everyone to work and succeed. When it all comes together, everyone in the dealership, including F&I, wins.

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Kristine Cain
Kristine Cain
Kristine Cain is a contributing writer for CBT News. She has over 26 years of experience in the automotive industry specializing in F&I and B2B sales.

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