I attended Car Dealer Expo (CDX16) at Silverstone last month and decided to write up about the Women in the Motor Industry session based on progress made.
The 2016 panel included professional stunt driver and event manager Annalese Ferrari; founder of the UK Automotive 30% Club Julia Muir; Head of Sales at GardX Amanda Massey and freelance motorsport journalist Georgie Shaw.
Great speakers all, this session was professionally and sympathetically hosted by Miriam Gonzalez Durantez who didn’t seem at all hampered by her self-declared lack of knowledge about the behind the scenes workings of the macho car industry!
The Women In The Motor Industry session was the first of its kind in 2015 when that female panel of four talked about their careers in garages, dealerships, finance and motor sports. But for me the really interesting part was the Question Time that followed.
The ongoing promotional girls divide
Of particular note in 2015 was the shared disapproval of the use of pretty promotional girls employed by Gardx in skin tight clothing. I recall one individual describing how totally offended she’d been by them on arrival at Silverstone that she nearly didn’t attend the conference. Just imagine this issue offending female customers who did walk away and took their business elsewhere?
A senior representative of that business (GardX) was at the 2015 session and stuck up for the rights of these women to wear what they had to, ie what GardX provided, to earn a crust. And of course we must assume that GardX does this for the gratification of men – albeit a decreasing fan club in today’s business arena.
I fall into the uncomfortable camp here, preferring a more feminine and less overtly sexy uniform (I suggested retro-style Goodwood-like frocks to GardX afterwards in an email exchange) as more elegant and less likely to offend influential female customers in future. So I was interested to see and hear whether this topic had been addressed by GardX or would be mentioned again in 2016.
Not just mentioned but top of the bill, with Amanda Massey from GardX on the 2016 Women in the Motor Industry panel, quick to defend the company’s promotional females on the day, as in the photograph.
And whilst I am sure the majority of the female audience felt as uncomfortable as I did about this, clearly the audience thought it would have been rude to challenge a role model speaker on this occasion – and what good might this have done anyway after raising this at #CDX15?
Gender differences in the automotive industry
Other issues discussed in the Women In The Motor Industry session at #CDX16 included
* The image of the motor industry in female minds and who/which industry body should be responsible for the defence/protection of this much maligned image? This matter was also discussed by the guys on a central stage session during the day – shame these discussions couldn’t be joined up?
* The critical influence of parents (especially Mums’) re: female careers. Few of whom see the motor industry as either female friendly or a professional career destination compared to many others…
* The tendency for women to lack confidence (or be too honest?) when applying for new job roles. Compared to overly confident males with less ability who apply and succeed because stronger female candidates didn’t challenge them.
* The reality that not all females who work in the motor industry are petrolheads or mechanically inclined (or should be expected to be).
Of particular note was an inspirational contribution from an upbeat Lucy Burnford who, like me wasn’t a motor industry person, but whose innovative car passport idea has been acquired, adopted and enhanced by The AA. Good on her.
I should also mention Julia Muir’s good work to encourage more females into key leadership roles.
The other contribution I particularly liked was from a female whose name I missed again but with whom I totally identified. She wanted to be known for her professional skills (she was a marketer/communicator like me) and not just for being a woman in the motor industry.
A BIG GENDER DEBATE
I’ll now leave you with a further observation that I believe is relevant based on my gender studies in this marvellous, mysterious and murky motor industry. It’s simply that the main gender difference I find is that most men think the motor industry is about cars and engines. Whereas most females, including me, think it’s about the people.
And we’re both right of course, but the industry has yet to get this balance right in business.
So what I suggest is a BIG GENDER DEBATE to get all these issues aired, addressed and sorted in future.
* One where we all LISTEN to each other, LEARN and CHANGE where necessary.
* One where both genders can express their honest views and experiences, be heard and feel appreciated for their equal contribution within this industry.
Not one where the men are seen to tolerate token gender equality by letting little women have their say in a sideroom, before continuing with the status quo, because certain CEOs think ‘it ain’t broke…’
* One where we all understand and accept that equality doesn’t mean men and women think the same or want to be treated the same – either as staff or customers.
* One that recognises that women are now the dominant car and garage services’ shoppers and we say ‘the motor industry IS broke for us…’
* One that has the strategic objective to attract more of the most talented women into the car industry, for otherwise we are recruiting from just 50% of the talent pool, whilst other industries cherry-pick this female talent ahead of us.
* One where we learn respect for each other from the Boardroom to the workshop floor, in showrooms, parts departments and independent garages. Sadly mutual respect isn’t always there; we also need to instil that respect for our industry in all motorists. But that’s a different story…
In the absence of a BIG GENDER DEBATE as yet (which I’m happy to organise, subject to a suitable sponsor), engagement initiatives like #CDX16, organised in the main by Car Dealer Features Editor Sophie Williamson-Stothert, are each in their way such an important step forward with a view to a healthier and more diverse automotive industry in future.
So let me end by thanking the many insightful men and women here who are helping the retail motor industry move from its shameful 2% of female employees stance, towards a healthier business future, one step at a time…
We are all determined to get there and the industry will thank us when we do!
PS: Please see my Steph Savill website stephsavill.co.uk for details of my consultancy services in this area, including public speaking.