Half of customers are women. Why not half your team?

Nationwide, not even 20 percent of the dealership work force is female, but more than 30 percent of the 64 team members at Planet Subaru in Hanover, Mass., are women. They include five managers, six women in sales and many in the service department, including the service manager and the majority of our advisers. We have four women turning wrenches as technicians - more, to our knowledge, than any other Subaru retailer in the United States.

We still have a long way to go before half our team is female, but we're already enjoying many benefits:

  • Hiring women doubles the size of our recruiting pool in an era when competition for talent is fierce.
  • Many women are more loyal because we offered them an opportunity they couldn't find elsewhere.
  • We differentiate ourselves from the competition with a unique value proposition. Increasingly, customers want to do business with companies that share their values. We've publicized our success, and customers drive past other dealerships to buy and service with us.

People ask how we got to a total of 20 women on our team. Well, we had 19, and then we hired one more. Seriously, we've been using that one-at-a-time strategy since we hired our first saleswoman upon opening in 1998. At some point, we achieved a critical mass, so a woman rarely finds herself the only one in the room. It's not uncommon to see the service manager and shop manager huddling with a couple of technicians over an engine - and they're all women.

Even as you would love to fill your team with women, perhaps you are skeptical. Here are some common refrains:

"Women don't apply for our openings."

We don't see enough applicants either, but we highlight this language in our recruiting ads: "Women and members of other populations traditionally excluded from the auto industry are thriving with us and we encourage you to apply. We will train." Many of our team members tell us they applied because they were specifically invited, and they wanted to work where others like them were already succeeding.

"Even when we find a good woman candidate, she won't take the job."
Beyond income and traditional benefits, do you offer enough reasons to join your team? Are your schedules flexible? Do your pay plans provide a secure level of income? Does your culture welcome women?

"We can't find experienced/qualified women."
There aren't many women in our industry, so we look for women with experience in a related field and then train them our way. One of our technicians was building furniture. Our shop manager was running a gym. You might struggle to find, say, an experienced female service manager - unless you can move up your own superstar adviser, which is how we did it.

"Women won't be able to muscle all the heavy objects in the shop, like 20-inch wheels."
They can, like a boss. It's technique and determination.

"They might get pregnant and leave."
They might, but we've yet to lose a team member to pregnancy - all have returned after leave. And even if one did, men leave for a thousand reasons too. We have 11 moms on our team, and moms make things happen. On the afternoon Christa delivered her second child, she was working at the counter with customers, gritting through contractions, until her husband took her to the hospital!

Change starts with you, at the top - when you make a serious, permanent commitment to increasing the number of women in your dealership. Men occupy most of the positions of power throughout the auto industry and are therefore uniquely positioned to close the gap. You can increase opportunities for women in this industry and improve your bottom line too.

See article in its original format here.