Dealerships around the country struggle to find innovative ways to recruit and retain top female talent; meanwhile, women themselves face challenges balancing work and home and often have to establish their place in the traditional dealership. It’s a situation that many believe needs to change. We recently interviewed Christy Roman, founder of Women in Automotive (WIA), about the difficulties women face and asked her how the industry can address them. Read on to discover her solutions.
NCM: What do you think are the biggest obstacles women face in automotive-focused careers?
Christy Roman: It’s a very family unfriendly environment—and it’s male-dominated. There are many antiquated requirements that could be changed that would make hiring and retaining women more feasible. The industry needs to make some of these adjustments, or their store demographics will not match those of their customers. It’s not just women, either, it’s young people. The days of working 12 hours a day, six days a week with a draw and little to no training are coming to a close.
NCM: This seems like a question of leadership; it reminds me of a great meme going around LinkedIn right now. What do you think of this? Do you agree?
CR: I love that—I think developing people is the mark of a good leader. Too many managers don’t understand that is their primary role—not just to provide a service or product. Developing people is the name of the game. That’s part of why we created this organization—to assist dealers in understanding that changes need to occur to be able to attract and grow people in the industry.
NCM Associates: Tell me more about what inspired you to create the WIA?
CR: I went to a marketing to women conference, and it got me to thinking about the industry and how cool it would be to have an event that we could tailor to women in the industry—from how to recruit and retain, train and develop women as employees to how to market and capitalize on their strength as consumers. It just seemed like it might be a good idea. We had no idea until we had the event how beneficial it would be. It was magical!
NCM: What role does WIA fill in women’s lives?
CR: It’s an opportunity to network, learn and be inspired by a great industry—it helps give women direction and shows them how much opportunity exists in automotive. At the same time, it helps dealers and human resource directors learn and share strategies that benefit employee satisfaction and retention. Marketers can come and be educated on how focusing on women is a good thing and can be very lucrative.
NCM: Do you have a particular mentor who helped guide you through your career?
CR: Jody Devere of Ask Patty has been one as it pertains to this industry and growing my business. Molly Curry of CDK also had a huge impact on me years ago, but there have been others along the way. It’s always helpful to have someone who’s been there and done that to give you advice. It keeps me calm, so I don’t freak out when things are difficult. And, as an entrepreneur, things are often very difficult.
NCM: How important do you think mentorship is for women in automotive?
CR: I think it’s incredibly important. It’s not an easy industry, as much opportunity as there is and as great an industry as it is. To have people who can commiserate with you and provide a sounding board is an invaluable tool to help you weather some of the storms that invariably come with careers in automotive.
NCM: Does WIA help fill that role? Do you want it to?
CR: We have a mentoring program that we have been piloting and plan to more formally roll out at this year’s event. If we can garner enough interest, we will certainly fill that role.
NCM: Who should those mentors be? Should women look for other women leaders in the industry?
CR: I think mentors come in all different shapes and sizes—so to find one in the industry or any other line of work, I don’t think it’s a necessity to be part of this industry. Beneficial, but not necessary.
NCM: Do you think it is important—especially in automotive—for women to have a male mentor in addition to female mentors? Why or why not?
CR: I stand by what I said above, mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and absolutely men can mentor. I think it’s more about how you relate to the mentor/mentee relationship and how it values both parties than whether it’s a woman or a man.
NCM: How can young women in the field—or women considering a move into automotive—find mentors? What should they do?
CR: Come to Women in Automotive in June and sign-up!
NCM: Do you mentor anyone in the field? What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve given them?
CR: I like to mentor those who ask me to do so—I have helped a number of people who have embarked on the oftentimes scary entrepreneurial track to help them be strategic and avoid costly mistakes. I’d like to teach young people about entrepreneurship: It took me until I was 30 to figure out I was an entrepreneur!