Woman Dealer Wants to Make Auto Retailing Less of a Man’s World

“The majority of men and women get along well,” dealer Dianna Freeman tells Wards Industry Voices contributor John Stephens. “It’s a minority of people who wants to remain in the Dark Ages.”

John Stephens 1, Senior Vice President-Dealer Services

October 17, 2018

4 Min Read
Woman dealership salesperson
“If you’re interested in being on the ground floor of a rapidly changing industry, there is a lot of opportunity for you,” dealer Dianna Freeman says of dealership job prospects for women.

Women are better salespeople, says organizational guru Tom Peters.

He frames that statement in the concept that 80% of success is just showing up.  His research shows women are more likely to show up in front of a prospect because they are 25% more willing to make cold calls than men. He extrapolates that if women are better at “showing up” then they are better sales people.

I would take that a step further by saying women are better communicators and multi-taskers, which makes them better salespeople. A wealth of research by psychologists and sociologists confirms my belief. So why aren’t that many women salespeople in retail automotive?

The National Automobile Dealers Assn.’s 2017 Workforce Study sheds light on this issue. Based on 2016 reporting data, women comprised only 19.4% of dealership staff. To make matters worse, women were hired for only 22% of new retail automotive roles in 2016.

Women who got dealership jobs left retail automotive at a disproportionate rate. An incredible 96% of female sales consultants left their role within a year. If women excel in the skills required to be better salespeople, why are they not being hired in retail automotive? 

I posed this question to Dianna Freeman, CEO and president of Freeman Motors, a Lexus and Toyota dealership in Santa Rosa, CA. She is highly successful and has expanded her dealership’s footprint in the past five years.  She has insight into the issues facing women in retail automotive.

Stephens: Tell me about your personal experience in automotive and rising through the ranks as a woman.

Freeman: I came from a business career outside of the automotive industry. My husband’s family owned the dealership. Five years ago, he passed away and I came in to run the dealership.

The dealership had been run by men for a long time, and they were stuck in the 1980s. I brought in some basic management concepts and was quickly shot down. These managers were happy with the old way of doing things and were resistant to change. But the industry had been changing rapidly and we were losing revenue as a result.

When I took over the dealership, I mystery shopped our service department, keeping in mind that the majority of dealership customers are women. The experience was eye-opening, and my first recommendation for the department was to hire a woman service adviser. Because of my extensive business background and research into dealership operations, I was able to prove that we needed to change our way of thinking. However, some employees still didn’t agree, and overcoming that hurdle was one of my biggest challenges. (Dianna Freeman, below) 

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You have to change the environment within the dealership to be more open to women. Ask your management team why there aren’t more women at the dealership. Does the dealership have hiring managers who are opposed to change? As with any dealership change, securing management buy-in is key to success.

Stephens: What challenges do most dealerships face when employing women?

Freeman:  It all goes back to management. You’d be surprised that once they get used to the idea, the majority of management can be open to change.

However, you need to find those naysayers and keep them from poisoning the well. One tactic that was successful for me was making sure open-minded managers are placed in positions of power. 

Stephens: What would you say to a male dealer principal about the benefits of employing women?

Freeman: Eighty percent to 85% of (car-buying) decisions are made by women. They are the main customer – whether you believe it or not.  Some people are more comfortable talking to a woman who often has a less aggressive vibe and readily puts people at ease.

Stephens: What steps have you taken to encourage women to work in your dealership?

Freeman: Honestly, it’s not rocket-science. We’ve hired several women, both with and without automotive experience. Most women think retail automotive is a good-old-boys club. If you tell them about the industry, the opportunities and the chance to make some serious money, you can reset their opinions.

But be honest about the challenges they will face. Be clear about the job expectations.

Stephens: What advice do you have for women working in automotive? 

Freeman: Be an individual. Work hard. Have a thick skin. If you don’t have a thick skin, it will be harder for you. If you don’t want to be part of the change, look elsewhere.

But if you’re interested in being on the ground floor of a rapidly changing industry, there is a lot of opportunity for you. There is a tremendous opportunity for growth, especially for younger people. If you are successful in retail automotive, you can advance very high – more quickly than some other industries. (Wards Industry Voices contributor John Stephens, below) 

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The majority of men and women get along well. It’s a minority of people who wants to remain in the Dark Ages.

John Stephens is executive vice president of Dealer Services at dealership F&I product and services provider EFG Companies. He can be reached at 972-445-8910 and jstephens@efgusa.

 

About the Author(s)

John Stephens 1

Senior Vice President-Dealer Services, EFG Companies

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