The Benefits of Understanding and Improving the Female Dealership Experience – Kathy Gilbert, CDK Global


It’s no secret that the auto retail industry has traditionally been male-dominated, however, there are some key industry players looking to increase female presence in the dealership and beyond. To learn more about this important issue, we recently spoke to Kathy Gilbert, Director of Customer Success at CDK Global. We discussed the key findings of CDK’s Female Dealership Experience research, how to increase dealership diversity, and recruiting female staff.

Female Dealership ExperienceVIDEO TRANSCRIPT: 

Jim Fitzpatrick: Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us on another edition of CBT News. Today we’re so happy to have with us Ms. Kathy Gilbert, who is the director of customer success at CDK Global. Welcome into the show, Kathy.

Kathy Gilbert: Thank you, glad to be here.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Great. Let’s just jump right in here. Can you share some of the findings in CDK’s Women in Automotive Research? What are some of the key takeaways?

Kathy Gilbert: Well, so some of the key takeaways, we recognize that women tend to have a negative perception of the automotive industry, and what that tends to do is lead them to not consider automotive as a good field for them to seek a career. Then in our recent survey, we looked at women in the industry and realized that roughly 62% of the women considered a position in customer experience, so what we’re looking at is working with our dealers to better understand that there are a lot of opportunities for women to have a good interaction with our customers, and that’s a role that they tend to like and appreciate.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. What strategies can dealerships utilize to increase workplace diversity?

Kathy Gilbert: So one of the big things is just inviting more women into the interview and the hiring process because if you have women that are coming in, they bring a different perception to the industry. They can talk a little bit about their experiences, and that helps overall to really give women a better perception about the industry itself. They can also do more mentoring and coaching of women that are already in the dealership so that they can speak to other women about their experiences with them working for a given dealership. But ultimately we see that if they kind of just step out of the normal interview pool and look at other avenues of attracting more women, especially considering our research showing that customer experience is something women enjoy, maybe offering roles that give them that experience right in front of a customer.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. The automotive industry is often seen as a traditionally male-dominated industry as we know. Why is this and how can the industry correct the imbalance in your opinion?

Kathy Gilbert: Well, we know that a lot of those perceptions are coming from just women in general over the years with the car buying process, and I think what the automotive industry can do is really focus on understanding the role that women play. When you look at our research, we see that 62% of women recognize that the industry in and of itself is not the place that they traditionally look at for opportunities, and so we need to do a better job. Dealerships need to do a better job of focusing on women that are coming in. How do you attract them? How do you make sure that you keep them within the dealership themselves, as well as look at opportunities for better work-life balance, whether that’s flexible hours or giving them opportunities to expand in other areas of the dealership?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. Yep. Make it a big effort. The majority of CDK’s leadership positions are held by men. Is CDK taking steps to bring more women into the executive team or onto the executive team?

Kathy Gilbert: Well, and I would tell you absolutely. 40% of the employees at CDK and 46% of our women are in a vice president or senior director or director role are females, and so that in and of itself is really good. I’ve been supportive of our CDK diversity efforts as my career. I’ve been with CDK for 25 years now, and so we are doing a lot to attract women into our business and support the women that are here. I would also tell you that I just moved into a new role, which is the director of customer success, and in-

Jim Fitzpatrick: Congratulations.

Kathy Gilbert: Thank you very much, and in that role, we are really focused on bringing in more women, so we’re looking across the board at the talent that we bring in and making sure that women have an opportunity to excel in these roles.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. Why is female leadership particularly important for the automotive dealer out there and for the auto industry?

Kathy Gilbert: Well, when you look at the fact that women influence over 85% of the vehicle purchases and the decisions that are made in automotive, we’re starting to see more and more women in the industry, and I think what happens is women have an influence on the decisions that are made and when they walk into the dealership and they’re not seeing other women or other people that look like them, I think that creates a challenge for the industry itself. So it’s important that the decisions that are made, whether that’s on the vehicle design or whether that’s on the sales or marketing, that we’re marketing to the consumers that are purchasing our [inaudible 00:05:29].

Jim Fitzpatrick: What positions at dealerships are women most drawn to and why? Why do they tend to find this work appealing?

Kathy Gilbert: So based on our survey that we just did, what we found is women are more drawn to the customer success, the customer experience positions in the dealership, and I think they’re drawn there because women like building relationships with those that are purchasing and those that they’re doing business with. So that comes across very well in terms of helping them understand not only what they’re looking for from that purchase, but also how they’re going to use it within their own lives. I think women look at those relationships, building long term relationships, and customer experience positions help them do that, help them take that customer as the focus for them.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. What is your own experience been as a working woman in the auto industry?

Kathy Gilbert: So that’s interesting. When I first started, my focus was technology. I love technology and I enjoyed the industry itself. Like most women, I kind of found myself in automotive from another career and that was technology. I enjoy technology. When I started with CDK, I was really focused on helping our dealers use our technology better. And I will tell you that once I got in the industry, the people that I’ve met and the ones that have been there to support me and mentor me have been instrumental in helping me to be successful in the industry. I will tell you that women find that across the board. You have someone whether it’s male or female supporting you in this industry. You tend to find the true value of it and you want to stay.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. Does that put a particular responsibility on those women that do make it either into the C Suite in the auto industry or into middle management positions to make a big effort to bring those other females or other females into the industry as well?

Kathy Gilbert: Absolutely. I would tell you we did a survey. CDK did a survey of our leaders in 2017, and what we found is that women that are in the dealership and that are supporting other women in the dealership from a leadership perspective, what tends to happen is respect level is higher. The culture is a little different in terms of really focus on inclusion and supporting women that are there, and you have less bias. So I think when you have women in the C level suite positions as well as in leadership roles within the dealership, it sets the tone that that dealer is supportive of women and that they’re helping women to be effective, as well as productive and have a good career here.

Kathy Gilbert: So it is important that we reach back and that we support women as they come into this industry. I’d tell you that it works because in my own experience I’ve had women dealership owners that have taken me under their wing and supported me, as well as others in the industry that have supported me and provided that direction. So I think it is an ownness that I take personally and I’m very passionate about and I think other leaders should as well, is to help nurture the women that are coming in this industry so they recognize how valuable it is.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. What do you say to the owner of an auto group that may have 10 or 15 dealers in the group? From his perspective, how does he make, can he mandate that more women are hired for these positions? How does that work from your perspective?

Kathy Gilbert: Well, of course, it starts at the top. The dealer and the owners, they set the tone. They set the culture, and if they are supportive, then it permeates throughout the organization. And so it definitely starts at the top in terms of being inclusive and require that when you’re looking for talent, are you looking for positions in the dealership that you do consider women? That may mean going outside of your normal channels, but it focuses on bringing in the best talent. So we’re not talking about just bringing in a woman to bring in a woman.

Kathy Gilbert: I will tell you when you bring in women into the dealership, you find that they bring in a different experience. They bring in a different perspective, they bring in some unique experiences that they can then share. That adds value to the overall decision making as well as the culture of that organization. I mean, and it starts with mentoring. It starts with coaching, it starts with the leadership. I would tell you, as I’ve talked to dealers over the years, those that have daughters that are in the industry, they start to understand and appreciate the value of giving women that opportunity to excel.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Well, as you know, AutoNation just took one huge step for mankind here in the spirit of the space anniversary, where they just appointed a nine-year employee who happens to be female and a very capable female at that. Cheryl Miller, who was the CFO for AutoNation, has now been promoted to CEO of the company. So it was a very bold move on AutoNation’s behalf. I commend them for that. I think that this is a major step in the right direction to show other dealers that, “Oh look at this. A female can run the nation’s largest automotive retailer, that being AutoNation.” So hopefully we’ll see some other publicly traded companies follow suit. Therefore when that happens, we typically see large auto groups follow that lead. So Kathy Gilbert, I want to thank you so much for joining us here on CBT news. This has been very enlightening. We’d love to have you back in the future and talk more about this very important topic.

Kathy Gilbert: Thank you very much. I would add one other comment to your AutoNation news. AutoNation is a big supporter of women in automotive and other women industry events, and that just shows that we’re making progress because these are the type of events where you identify talent if you have women coming together at these critical events. It gives AutoNation as well as other leading industry public companies as well as private companies the opportunity to see great talent in these types of things.

Jim Fitzpatrick: No, no question about it. Needless to say, nobody has done more for breast cancer awareness than AutoNation has with their Drive Pink campaign over the last number of years. So it was a perfect fit. I wish AutoNation and Cheryl Miller the best of luck. Again, thank you so much, Kathy, for joining us on CBT News to discuss this very important issue.

Kathy Gilbert: Thank you very much for having me.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Thank you. Did we get you out on time?

Kathy Gilbert: Yes, and I’m so sorry.

CBT Automotive Network, the number one most-watched network in retail automotive. This has been a JBF Business Media production.


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