How these two sisters and auto dealers are enriching opportunities for women across their stores

The most important thing is to not treat women differently.

Two sisters out of suburban Chicago were brought into their family business as the next generation of successors. They are now running successful dealerships and join us today during Women’s History Month, to discuss their journey in automotive as women. We’re pleased to welcome Karmala Sutton, Dealer Manager at Honda of Kenosha, and her sister, Karen Ford, Dealer at Sutton Ford in Matteson, Illinois.

Before Sutton got into the car business, she went to college and studied hospitality management at the height of the 08′ economic recession. After graduating, Sutton’s job hunt led her to CarMax, where she worked as a buyer for a couple of years. A buyer position then opened up at one of her father’s dealerships and she began working at the store in 2014. After a year or two, Sutton decided that she wanted to pursue being a dealer and continue the family business. Sutton adds that working for a dealer group that wasn’t owned by her Dad was a huge opportunity to learn about corporate stores.

Ford adds that she came out of college around the recession as well. From there, she went to work at IBM in New York, but still had ambitions to enter the automotive space. However, both Sutton and Ford’s father was adamant that they had to make their own way before coming to work for the stores. Ford says that working in corporate America led to her completing Toyota’s management training program in California, and then working in the commercial and fleet business portion of the Ford store before becoming dealer manager.

Sutton and Ford have built successful careers for themselves in automotive retail, but there are still fewer women in automotive when compared to their male counterparts. Ford says that a lot of it comes down to education. Many young people in America don’t even consider the automotive industry for their futures. Dealers need to educate young people about why automotive is a desirable career path. For women in the business, long hours and family obligations tend to make this path less desirable.

The key is flexibility. Both Sutton and Ford work with all members of their staff to meet their needs to the best of their ability. Ford says her store started closing earlier, and rotating evening shifts. Sutton adds that she works with employees and offers alternative positions within the dealership to better fit the individual. Some employees are more comfortable with salaried positions rather than commission-based.

Sutton explains, “It’s about being able to be flexible and working with your team members. Right. And having an open-door policy where they could say, Hey, I need to have this happen. Sure. How can I have it happen? How can we work with you and make sure it’s available?”

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