There are numerous headlines across print, online and social media platforms addressing the pros of diversity in the workplace. This goes beyond simply meeting a quota to hire women and minorities, particularly for automotive dealerships. Diversity and inclusion in the dealership means bringing a broad amount of experiences and knowledge together for a common purpose to positively impact a companies’ culture, success and profitably.
Becoming a more effective and diverse supplier means learning the difference between inclusiveness and diversity, and changing the habits and mindset of leadership and staff to incorporate their strengths and improve upon their shortcomings.
A History of Indifference
The automotive industry has been a particularly adept lens for viewing the temperament of society throughout the nation’s history. The growth of the industry, from manufacturing and employment, to marketing and sales, has often reflected the pace at which the country has adopted to and driven change. But most of this growth and change has been led by men – think Henry Ford, Lee Iacocca and Elon Musk. Absent are the names and faces of pioneering women and minorities that have helped shape car culture and promoted parity in the workplace. Dealers today must directly address the misnomers that persevere and reflect poorly upon the industry, by more clearly defining and understanding what diversity and inclusiveness means to their business.
Diversity and inclusion are oft used in conjunction when describing the act of being nondiscriminatory of a person based on race, sex, ethnicity or age. Though they share aspects of similarity, the two are fundamentally different in scope, where diversity pertains to the differences among members of a group; inclusion is the state of multiple members being present, or included in that group. It is important for dealerships to understand and incorporate both aspects of workplace parity to better utilize available talent throughout their business model. A large aspect of why diversity and inclusion have stalled at the dealership level has to do with public perception.
In a recent Deloitte study of the global automotive industry’s gender gap for hiring, the women interviewed noted several perceived barriers to diversity in the auto industry. Their perceptions shed an unfavorable light upon the potential career positions within the automotive field (not just retail sales) and include the industry being an unappealing work environment for women and minorities, as having inflexible scheduling and long work days with a distinct lack of advancement opportunities. Considering that half the population is female and women are a growing segment of auto buyers, it’s clear to see that representation of this buyer group is important – from the bottom line for sales and service to the empowerment of marginalized demographic groups.
Programs aimed at changing these perceptions were made popular in the 1970’s as a result of the equal rights movement. Over time, many of these initiatives were successful in opening doors of opportunity for women in roles of leadership and for minority owned auto retailers to open their doors. The recession and automotive bailout took it’s toll on both the programs of equal mentorship and the number of minority-led dealers. The NADA reported a significant drop in minority owned dealerships by 2015, and the market is still slow to rebound fully. This is more than just the struggles of a family-owned business, as it highlights the disparity for consumers to engage with an auto sales and service company that’s reflective of them because it’s their community members at the helm.
Men at Work
The advocacy group Women In Automotive notes 50% of car buyers are women, but that women comprise less than 20% of the workforce. There’s no sufficient data to support those dealers that hire bi- or multi-lingual staff, nor any findings on LGBQT labor statics, but it’s safe to say most dealerships are mostly comprised of English speaking men – from ownership and management to sales and service. Creating a diverse workforce that includes people of various backgrounds means changing the mindset of the people working and interacting there.
Whether your dealership is a quant single-line store or a multi-line mega center, incorporating a diverse and inclusive talent pool will surely help your business grow. Figures from prominent automotive advocacy organizations illustrate that ownership rates and retailer employment isn’t as diverse as other industries, but dealerships can change this. Implementing new habits can alter the demographic dynamics and operational attitudes to better serve the dealership’s customers and community.
Lead With Good Habits
Change has to start from the top and it begins with senior level leadership clearly defining and creating a culture of acceptance as part of the retailer’s identity. This doesn’t mean sell your franchise, but it does lean towards promoting equal access to ownership and franchise licensing. Auto manufacturers GM, Toyota, Ford and Nissan are rolling out updated diversity programs intended to identify, educate and mentor minority owners and employees to increase the number of minority owned retailers, service centers and other automotive support businesses.
You don’t have to have access to large corporate programs to enact the habit of mentorship. Form the habit of hiring and promoting talented individuals of differing ages, genders and ethnicities. Older staff members often bring experience while younger ones can share a fresh perspective. An ethnically diverse workforce demonstrates that your dealership is in tune with the community it serves.
To reach more multicultural consumers, develop the habit of mirroring the community. Have bi-lingual documents where appropriate and create advertisements catered to non-English speakers in your market. By having staff members that speak a clients preferred language, or one that openly shares their cultural heritage, the diverse dealer provides a quality experience through connection.
Implement better habits of attracting and retaining a diverse staff. Respondents of the Deloitte poll noted that work schedule was a main concern of why they avoided automotive careers. To combat this misperception, institute a parity of pay program, provide training and leadership opportunities equally and offer flexible scheduling to accommodate a healthy work/life balance.
And perhaps the most important habit to keep is that of an active listener. Including others who do not look, think or problem solve quite the same as you inevitably leads to differences of opinion. Avoid making rash decisions in favor or non-judgmental conversations where the goal is to make sound business decisions based on collaboration. What works for one dealer in a rural market may be less effective for a large volume store.
Change is the prevailing constant in the automotive industry. The most successful dealerships will adopt a diverse and inclusive culture to better serve the needs of this evolving customer base. Promoting acceptance and forming effective habits are key traits of an inclusive workplace. Create a non-judgmental work environment, offer equal pay with flexible schedules, and utilize mentorship and networking to pass on invaluable tips and guidance to the next generation of of leadership. Recruit people with diverse backgrounds and welcome different ideas and opinions for what they are – tools for growth.
References: NADA, Deloitte Insights, National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD), Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion & Advancement (CADIA), Women In Automotive