Pub. 5 2024 Issue 2

Climbing the Automotive Industry Ladder of Success

In the auto industry, there is a gap between the number of women in leadership and those who buy cars. Maintaining that discrepancy is risky because it shows a lack of innovation when serving the market.

Interestingly, women buy 62% of all vehicles today. Even if they don’t purchase directly, they influence 85% of car-buying decisions. Yet, while more women are in automotive leadership roles than ever, the statistics are still not great. According to Deloitte’s recent study, women account for 47% of the labor force but only 27% of the auto-industry workforce, even though those who are in the industry really enjoy it (Women at the Wheel study). The 330 women surveyed, also in a study by Deloitte and Automotive News, have an average tenure of 15 years at the same company and over 26 years in the industry. More than 80% are senior managers (directors, vice presidents and other C-suite occupants), and almost 60% are in marketing, sales, operations or product development.

In most industries, women prefer conducting business with other women. Whether it’s their banker, doctor, lawyer, psychologist or salesperson, most women want to deal with the same gender because they feel more heard than when dealing with a man. Even though most women have done their research, they want someone who can understand them and listen. Can a man do this? Absolutely! But sometimes, women need to see another woman in the business before they will walk through the door in the first place.

So why are there not more women in our industry?

From the day in 1882 when Bertha Benz became the first person to complete a long-distance automobile trip, women have popularized the automobile and staged and led many noteworthy developments.

There are many reasons why the auto industry fits well with women, and perhaps we all need to do a better job of highlighting those:

  1. It’s a great industry for a career change. Many people find the need to switch careers, and the auto industry is an exceptional place to land. For many women looking to return to the job market after a leave of absence, the auto industry has many soft-skill jobs that offer a solid career path, from accounting to finance and beyond.
  2. The opportunity to learn new skills. The auto industry offers a wide range of positions, each requiring specific skills to be learned and mastered.
  3. A wealth of lateral job moves. Not all job moves need to go straight up. The auto industry has many opportunities that zig-zag, yet they still allow for growth.
  4. Charting a career path. The auto industry offers excellent opportunities for advancement. It’s a matter of being observant, asking questions and seeking out the opportunities that arise often in most dealerships.

One of the best approaches to success in the auto industry is developing a strong network of allies, mentors and good people to know. And I think there’s no better industry than the automotive industry to start your network. Most dealer principals have more than one story about the people who taught them the business and set up their career trajectory for success within the business — and they typically want to return the favor.

Another great source for your network is tapping into your vendor relationships, especially if you already work in the auto industry. Strong vendor partnerships are among the greatest strategic growth tactics and best practice resources available to nearly every industry, including the auto industry. By collaborating with suppliers and vendors, within the framework of a true partner relationship, you can multiply success and profits exponentially. And the best part? Everyone benefits.

A genuine mutual relationship that promotes problem-solving is an advantage for profit margins and creates a more productive and engaged organization that focuses on quality outcomes. While this should be a best practice for everyone, it’s especially important to women in the auto industry.

As women in the auto industry, it’s important to identify what resources you need to do your job successfully, what resources influence your job area, and what resources can further your career and connect with them.

Strong vendor relationships allow you to leverage your time, and strong mentor relationships give you the inside track on how to get things done.

The future of women in the auto industry is strong; it won’t remain at 27%, and that’s a good thing. Study after study has shown the importance of gender diversity in all industries, including the auto industry. Companies with diverse management teams experience 19% higher revenue and are 70% more likely to enter new markets. Furthermore, diverse teams are 12% more productive. Better still, turnover goes down 45%.

In the automotive industry, where technological advances and shifting consumer demands drive rapid change, embracing diversity and inclusion has never been more crucial.

Sharon Kitzman leads the launch and long-term growth of Dominion DMS. Previously, she managed the strategic direction and product development for Reynolds & Reynolds and Dealertrack. Her experience spans every area of dealership software development, including sales, marketing, product lifecycle management, process re-engineering, OEM management, professional services and customer services.

Kitzman is a recognized leader in the automotive industry for her expertise in DMS technology. She received numerous accolades for her leadership, including Automotive News Top 100 Leading Women 2015 and 2020, Auto Remarketing Women in Retail 2021, and AutoSuccess Women at the Wheel 2021. She has a Bachelor of Business Administration from Ohio State University.

Sharon Kitzman is passionate about creating and nurturing partnerships within the automotive industry and regularly discusses the many vendor products and services within the auto industry on her VUE Points podcast. Listen here:

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